One of the thematic or focus areas of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) in terms of social services is public education. The other two under social services are health and infrastructure. Other ANSA-EAP thematic areas are the youth, procurement monitoring, and the extractive industries. It is generally accepted that public education is crucial to the life and development of any society. According to the Australian Council for the Defence of Government Schools,
Public school education stands for and assists in achieving a viable and just community. The strongest possible public school education is needed for the continuation of a viable, democratic and heterogeneous community. Let no one doubt that if there is to be a twilight of the liberal public school and public education systems, that twilight will also be the twilight of the modern liberal/democratic state whose values are freedom, equality, justice, fraternity, the working of popular consent and the personal obligation for the public good.
Throughout the region, a number of countries pin their hopes of better service delivery – including public education – and private enterprise promotion on decentralization. Increasingly the sub-national scale is seen as the site for the exercise of new forms of participation and citizenship. The question remains, however, how decentralization may
support the near universal policy commitments to increase public access to the affairs of government; bring about greater responsiveness and accountability of locally elected leaders; better match resources for public services with locally defined, and often highly specific, needs; and in large frame, how decentralization is associated, positively or negatively, with achievement of commitments made every government in the region to poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.
For many countries in the region, the goal of improved quality of public education poses a gargantuan challenge that is closely linked to the issue of decentralization. The assumption behind decentralization is that the “transfer of fiscal, political and administrative functions from higher to lower levels of government” is facilitated in a manner where one function ideally complements the other, e.g. administrative functions are decentralized together with fiscal functions, to support responsibility with the accompanying accountability. However, in actual practice, the transfer of functions often has no rational basis – administrative functions are devolved to the sub-national level, but fiscal functions continue to be under the control of a central agency at the national level. Thus, sub-national offices often carry the burden of fiscal responsibility without the corresponding accountability.
Second, decentralization highlights the issue of delivery of key education inputs necessary to improve the quality of education. These inputs include teacher effectiveness, school infrastructure and facilities, curriculum development, textbooks and instructional materials, and school-community dynamics. What are the parameters governing the allocation of inputs that would bring about the most equitable distribution of resources – a leveling of the playing field, so to speak – for the public education sector?
Third, decentralization puts into focus the deconcentration of school operations and management – from a centralized setup to assigning certain functions to lower-level branch offices. Like fiscal decentralization, deconcentration of school operations and management draws attention not only to the functions that should be passed on to sub-national level agencies, but also to the issues of responsibility and accountability between national and sub-national level agencies.
Fourth, decentralization is geared towards the promotion of citizen participation in decision-making at various levels. On the one hand, to what extent, and in what specific areas, should citizens and citizen groups participate in decision-making processes in the public education sector? Extent refers to various levels of governance – from national to sub-national – where decision-making is exercised (e.g. policy, allocation of resources, etc.). Specific areas refer to key education inputs mentioned previously. On the other hand, is there space for citizen engagement in the financial management of the public education sector, which involves planning, budgeting, expenditure tracking (including procurement), and performance assessment? If so, is the policy environment conducive to support social accountability mechanisms? How do current citizen initiatives, such as the Philippines’ Textbook Watch (of G-Watch) and Bantay Eskwela, contribute to advancing social accountability and good governance practices?
Finally, from an EAP regional viewpoint, there is the question of the varying levels and degrees of implementing decentralization across countries. What are the emerging issues in the public education sector, considering that governments across the EAP vary in terms of democratization processes, e.g. closed, undergoing transition, or open?
It is in the above context that the issue paper on social accountability and public education was developed.
Decentralization and Public Education: Problems and Promises for Social Accountability
In most developing countries, the provision and delivery of public goods and services have always been the main concern of central government. As a public good, education is considered by the international community as a basic fundamental right of everyone, regardless of gender, class, race or religion. However, basic education that is free and accessible to everyone is not cheap.
Particularly in East and Southeast Asia, the need for governments to deliver universal public education is an uphill battle. Recently, a growing number of countries realized that the only way to provide education to most of its poor population is to transfer this responsibility away from the central government. This phenomenon is called decentralization or the transfer of power and authority from central to local governments. Aside from this, decentralization also highlights the crucial role of non-state actors such as civil society organizations (CSOs) in “state processes” such as lobbying, planning, budgeting, and monitoring of public services. As a public management strategy, decentralization has three main goals: a) to make service delivery efficient and to provide cheap but high quality basic goods; b) to make government more responsive to the needs of the people by bringing the decision-making process closer to the people; and c) to institutionalize people’s participation in the processes of governance.
Theoretically, the technical and political requirements of decentralization complements the so-called Four Pillars (or enabling conditions) of Social Accountability – organized and capable citizens, government openness, access to information, and context & cultural appropriateness. Put another way, social accountability efforts become relatively easier to pursue in decentralized setup.
Decentralization and social accountability are political mechanisms that allow the deepening of democracy in societies by making governments more responsive, efficient and transparent to the people it serves. However, if not well thought out in terms of policy development and structuring mechanisms for implementation and montoring, both cause serious governance problems which could weaken the very institutions they seek to strengthen. Click here to get paper
The expert-writer drafted a "stimulus paper" which outlined and attempted to articulate a preliminary set of issues on social accountability and public education, based on a tentative set of objectives. Selected public education stakeholders went through the paper in preparation for a discussion. The selected Philippine public education stakeholders composed of former City Mayor, School Superintendent, Parent-Teacher Association representatives, and Civil Society representatives as participants. The “stimulus” paper provided the outline for the talking points. The documentation provided information for the issue paper. Click here to get Documentation