Advocating Reforms for Accountability, Transparency

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L-R: Senior Policy Analyst, UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR), Dr. William Smith; Managing Director, The Education Partnership (TEP) Centre), Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju; Director-General, Office of Education Quality Assurance, Mrs. Ronke Soyombo; Nigeria Country Director, Development Alternatives Inc (DIA), Dr. Joe Abah; Chief Executive Officer, Edumark, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde; National Programme Manager, DFID's Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn-Accountable, Responsive and Capable (PERL-ARC), Mr. Ifeanyi Pters-Uguwoke and Product Marketing Manager, Grow with Google, Google Nigeria, Ms. Simbo Olatoregun

Mary Nnah writes that the crux of the recent Nigeria Education Innovation Summit organised by The Education Partnership Centre, which attracted nearly 250 high-level delegates and key players in the education ecosystem, was a call for transparency and accountability in the sector

Education world over is seen as the cornerstone of development. It forms the basis for literacy, skills acquisition, technological advancement as well as the ability to harness the natural resources of the environment for development and this all-important sector is faced with myriad of problems in Nigeria.

Prominent among the problem areas that brings to light the poor show of the sector are the poor quality of school products, flawed administrative procedures and lack of accountability in the school system, politicised employment and appointment of school heads, improper supervision and defective quality assurance and control mechanism. These among many others things were points of discussion at a recent summit in Lagos.

Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, once said the problem with Nigeria’s education system is no more funding but accountability and transparency, adding that the fundamental challenge of education in Nigeria is the many decades of poor sector governance and entrenched dysfunction with no mechanism of accountability and performance.

While education spending levels and enrollment rates in schools have increased across the developing world, a variety of research studies and datasets show that learning levels remain low. These data also shows that low learning levels have persisted over some time and are especially dire in rural areas, highlighting some of the pressing challenges facing many developing countries.

It was therefore in line with this fact that the UNESCO Policy and Research Expert, Dr William C. Smith; advocated for collaboration amongst all stakeholders in the education sector as the only sustainable way towards attaining the much-needed reforms in Nigeria.

Whilst delivering the keynote address at the recently concluded 2018 Nigeria Education Innovation Summit (NEDIS), Smith who led the thematic section of the 2017/2018 GEM Report Accountability in Education: Meeting our Commitments, recommended this best practice to participants drawn from the public, private and non-profit sectors from within and outside Nigeria.

Nearly 250 high-level delegates and key players in the education ecosystem gathered in Lagos at the Nigerian Education Innovation Summit (NEDIS) 2018; a two-day convening designed to strengthen the design, implementation and scaling up of education innovations in Nigeria.

This year’s summit themed, ‘Accountability and Transparency in the Education Sector: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities’, hosted by The Education Partnership (TEP) Centre attracted experts and stakeholder to share knowledge and discuss issues, challenges and innovative practices pertaining to accountability and transparency in Nigeria’s education sector.

When giving a brief context to the summit theme, Mr. Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu, a steering committee member of the National Innovation Collaboration on Education, highlighted that only students are held accountable through testing because they are regarded as the weakest in the ecosystem, while other stakeholders within the ecosystem are hardly held responsible.

Periodic Reviews

Speaking on the theme of the summit during his keynote address, Smith advocated for periodic reviews and assessment studies in order to identify missing gaps and find solutions to uneven development outcomes across Nigeria’s educational system, ‘responsibility can be shared, but accountability cannot’, he added.

Experts at the summit were of the view that every organisation either commercial or otherwise including schools are established and sustained essentially to achieve certain assured objectives, stressing that in the education system, one of the vital mechanisms to be put in place towards achieving the goals of the school and ensuring quality service delivery to the society is accountability. Accountability etiquette tends to imply that performance is related to the organisational goals.

Collaboration

During her opening remarks at NEDIS 2018, the convener; Dr. Modupe Adefeso – Olateju, Managing Director, TEP Centre, who remarked on the importance of the conference said, “Collaboration, networking and partnerships have been the biggest outcomes from this platform every year”.

Olateju also added that adequate planning and proper reporting and verification should be imbibed in order to ensure responsibility is taken for performance and non-performance.

“Education as an investment in human capital has become a matter of priority for both government and individuals. The general belief is that education helps to enhance the well-being of the individual and the society at large. With this socio-economic satisfaction, education in Nigeria is seen as a big industry with large investment”, Olateju noted.

Transparency

Delegates at the event included, Nigeria Country Director, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), Dr. Joe Abah; Senior Programme Officer, MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Amina Salihu; Education Adviser – United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), Ms. Esohe Eigbike and Executive Chairman Edo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr. Joan Oviawe.

Others include Mr. Alhaji Ja’afaru Sani, Ms Abiose Adams; Vice-President Measurement and Evaluation, Bridge International Academies, Steve Cantrell; Nosakhare Owen Erhahon, an Edo State school teacher and many more, were unanimous about the importance of punitive measures for leaders and policy makers especially at the state levels for non- transparent and non-accountable practices.

They stressed that that information about transparency in education should be in the public domain to the citizens and that personal development and human capacity building should be made a priority.

Charge to Media

The media was charged to be actively engaged and diligent at ensuring that citizens have a good perception of the transparency models being recommended in the education sector in order to effectively advocate for the desired change. Media professionals were told to communicate properly the vision of the educational system developed by government so it can be understood by every citizen.

Stakeholders

Stakeholders at the event expressed belief that as an investment, there are problems associated with its financing, adding that one of the factors that have contributed to these problems is the widening perception of education as the key to upward economic and social mobility. This has implication in expecting that education should be able to yield dividends in line with the need of the nation. Therefore, on societal grounds and from economic perspectives, great investments were found on societal grounds, whereas from economic perspectives, great investments in education can be justified because of its expected generous returns.

UNESCO Report

The United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), is known for tasking governments to design accountability and transparency for schools and teachers, adding that governments should set up independent institutions to handle complaints emanating from the sector.

While calling for transparency and accountability in the education sector, Manos Antoninis, Director of UNESCO, Global Education Monitoring (GEM), in his 2017 report said: ”Governments should develop credible and efficient regulations with associated sanctions for all education providers, public and private, that ensure non-discrimination and the quality of education. They should allow for democratic participation, respect media freedom to scrutinise education and set up independent institutions to handle complaints.”

He added that, “governments should design accountability for schools and teachers that is supportive and avoid punitive mechanisms, especially those based on narrow performance measures. Whereas transparency would help identify problems, only one in six governments publish annual education monitoring reports.”

Antoninis stressed that strong independent bodies such as ombudsmen, parliaments and audit institutions are also needed to hold governments to account for education because lack of accountability opens the door to corruption.

The report argued that it is crucial to set and enforce regulations ranging from contract tendering to teacher qualifications. Fewer than half of low and middle-income countries had standards for early childhood education and just a handful had mechanisms to monitor compliance. There are no regulations on class sizes in almost half of countries.

”No approach to accountability will be successful without a strong enabling environment that provides actors with adequate resources, capacity, motivation and information to fulfil their responsibilities,” Antoninis added.

While citing Lagos State as an example, Antoninis said: ”In Lagos, Nigeria, only 26 per cent of private schools in 2010/2011 had been approved by the State Ministry of Education.”

Pointing out the danger of unapproved schools, he warned that in countries with weak accreditation processes, thousands of students would graduate with unrecognised degrees. He noted also that in Kenya and Uganda, private schools were operating without qualified teachers and with inadequate infrastructure before regulations were put in place and courts shut them down.

He however, advised that where formal mechanisms fail, citizens could play a vital role in holding governments to account for meeting their right to education. In Colombia, he said, a citizens’ campaign successfully challenged the government in court leading to the establishment of free education.

The report emphasised the importance of accountability in addressing gaps and inequalities. Globally, less than 20 per cent of countries legally guarantee 12 years of free and compulsory education. There are 264 million children and youth out of school and 100 million young people currently unable to read.

Education from the investment point of view, he said, is an input-output process, adding, “the process in terms of desirability is a function of cost-benefit, cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness analysis, which is measured in terms of utilisation of real resources. The cost-expenditure in education is escalating. This trend has bugged the minds of many investors in education because of the deficiency seen in the educational products”.

Decades of Neglect

Over the years calls for accountability have become imperative because of the demand for constructive changes in the education system. In the schools, administrators and their subordinates have been said to neglect these essential ingredients in the performance of their administrative functions.

The effect is that there are neglect returns and wastages in the system. Wastage of real resources, human, fiscal and materials, is now rampant in the system, some resources are misallocated and misused. Huge direct and indirect loss involved is of great concern to investors. Obviously, administrators are confronted with enormous challenges as regards matter of accountability during their managerial function.

Accountability in education sector has become very imperative considering the fact that the society expects very much from the school system. All operators in the school system have an obligation to live up to their responsibilities by making the education system very responsive, competitive and productive.

Recommendation

An important conclusion from the summit was the clear focus on long-term planning and investment for sustainable development of the education sector in Nigeria. Speakers and delegates discouraged the short-term spending habits of public and non-state actors in education. According to them, education funding and development can only be sustained by establishing evidence-based accountability measures.

The fourth edition of NEDIS recommended that the quest for quality education in Nigeria can become a reality if the government provides an enabling environment for the development and implementation of sound policies and structures related to accountability and transparency.

The popular proverbial saying that, “No man is an Island” rings true for accountability and transparency in education because the establishment of strong accountability systems require collaborative efforts among all stakeholders.