The Education Management Information System (EMIS) report of 2011, 2013, and 2014 rated Mangochi as one of the districts with the worst attainment indicators in terms of numeracy, literacy and dropout as well as low completion rates. Our reporter FATSANI GUNYA engaged executive director for Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) BENEDICTO KONDOWE, on the Result-Based Financing (RBF), a project they are implementing to help avert the sad trends in the district.
First of all, what is the project all about?
The full name is Improved School Performance through Result-Based Financing (RBF). The pilot, with financial support from Cordaid from The Netherlands, is being conducted in Monkey-Bay, Mangochi District. About 30 primary schools have been targeted in three zones; Monkey Bay, Nkope and Thema Zones of the district with an eye for a total of 34 000 primary school learners to be served. Initially, it ought to have been a two-year project [September 2014 to August 2016] but further foresight allowed it to be extended with a further year. Therefore it is expected to phase out in August this year.
Of what significance is the project?
Basically, it was meant to test results-based financing as an alternative for the prevailing input-based financing system for education. Otherwise, it is aimed at improving education quality, access, retention; equity, relevance, as well as management to enable primary schools attain national education standards [NES]. As Mangochi, the RBF was seen as a means to reverse the sad trends as indicated in the Emis report from 2010 through 2014 which did paint a gloomy picture of the district as regards education management. The district rated poorly in numeracy, literacy and dropout rates. It also had one of the lowest school completion rates in the country. Therefore, the project seeks to improve the learning environment by providing more infrastructures; reducing dropout thereby improving retention and completion rates. It also attempts to strengthen school governance system and community participation. Record keeping, transparency and accountability of the school are other areas that the project intends to consolidate. By the end of the day, we believe learner outcomes and performance will be improved.
Why settle for that unique path of engaging in infrastructural development at a time when most players in the NGO sector are into advocacy?
No disrespect to other NGOs, but as Csec, we realised that advocacy on its own was not enough to help improve the standards of education in the country. We also noted that there cannot be quality education without infrastructure and a motivated teaching force. On this basis, and with funding from the donor–Cordaid, we were convinced that support towards infrastructure and teachers’ bonuses offer a good pathway to improving standards in education. As such, we decided to pilot this with the view to generate lessons that could help government for possible upscale in the near future.
As an education activist yourself, what are some notable weakness in the country’s education sector?
The greatest challenge facing Malawi’s education system is what we can call Gross Internal Inefficiency. This include high dropout, high repetition and low completion rates. These are the factors undermining the potential of the sector to grow the literacy rates and be the main pinnacle for development. We believe that by improving school governance mechanisms, record keeping and providing the necessary and adequate infrastructure, Csec is contributing towards consolidating government’s ‘weak’ education system.
Coordination is said to be key to success in any undertaking. What is the relationship like between Csec and the other stakeholders in this project?
If we have already started talking of some positive strides from the project, I can confidently accrue it to the excellent coordination amongst all the players involved—from the donor to Csec, the communities on the ground and even government through the line ministry [Ministry of Education, Science and Technology]. Together, we help government towards meeting its education intent. For a start, Csec collaborates with ministries of gender that of finance and local government on top of the education one earlier mentioned through a national steering committee. The same framework has been replicated at district level where there is a district RBF committee which basically provides oversight functions to the project. At community level, Csec implements the project by actively engaging chiefs and communities. One of the project intents is to strengthen interaction and relationships between the schools and the communities hence Csec considers the role of communities and chiefs inevitable to the success of the project.
What challenges, if any, has the project faced in its pilot phase?
I would have easily said nothing significant but then, as they say every rose flower has its own thorns, I will highlight a few. One of the dark sides to the project can be said of its short duration to generate optimum learning. This being a new concept in Malawi, there was a need to have adequate time to interrogate the concept and their attendant challenges in order to inform government on the model. Consequent of this, Cordaid as a funder upon being approved, accepted to extend the pilot by a further year. The second challenge has been low participation and commitment of some communities towards construction of school blocks.
The pilot winds up in next month. Any signs it has achieved its aims?
There is enormous achievement that the pilot is generating in terms of improving record- keeping, strengthening governance arrangements, improving community-school interaction as well as improved learner performance. To this end, I would not hesitate to say without doubt that we are impressed with the results so far as further evidenced by the growing government’s and other donor partners’ interest in the pilot so far!
Should it be a success as you rightly hint, there will be a need for up-scaling. Where will you source further funding from?
Efforts are already being made, through our current donor, Cordaid, to fundraise for more resources for a possible upscale. There is a lot of work being done to market the pilot through success stories.