My last two blogs, Lessons on School-Based Management from a Randomized Experiment and Empowering Parents to Improve Schooling: Powerful Evidence from Rural Mexico , have focused on empowering parents to help increase accountability in schools. However, too often, decentralization programs are designed without adequately conveying the messages about their purpose to the intended audiences; or, it is done in such a way that the program is rendered useless.
As argued in Making Schools Work , parents should be aware of their role and the purpose of the decentralization program. In a large randomized trial in three Indian states , Priyanka Pandey, Sangeeta Goyal and Venkatesh Sundararaman, designed and evaluated a community-based campaign that provided information to parents on their oversight roles in school governance and informed them about the education services to which they are entitled.
The idea was that school outcomes would improve through enhanced monitoring if communities were empowered with such information. The key feature of the campaign was community-wide public meetings that parents, teachers and the school committee were invited to attend. But these meetings were not enough to convey the messages. According to Pandey, a consultant in the World Bank’s South Asia Human Development Department, strategies are needed for effective information delivery. In fact, the intervention included a campaign which consisted of 14 meetings in every village over a two and half year period.
The project produced impacts that were significant.
First, schools located in villages that benefited from the information campaign noted higher rates of teacher attendance and engagement in teaching – a very positive outcome given that initial levels of teacher absenteeism were very high. Second, there were positive learning gains, especially in mathematics achievement. Third, school committees became more active after the information campaign. Focus groups indicated that information helped strengthen community involvement in education—communities discussed the information widely and took-up issues of teaching and learning with schools and committees. However, the impact differed across states; bigger gains were noted in the two lagging states, which had low school outcomes to begin with, while gains were smaller in the third state, which had a much higher starting point.
This project provides important lessons for the Bank – and, indeed, the wider development community.
First, the evaluation of important and innovative education interventions is possible. Second, as is the case for most schooling interventions—but more so for school-based programs—time is critical to see real impacts on learning. Currently, most impact evaluations provide about a three year period; however, learning gains often need more time to materialize. Therefore, future evaluations should allocate a sufficient period of time to see learning gains. The third and final lesson is that design matters. The provision of information to communities has to be structured, focused, clear and repeated often. In this project, Pandey and her colleagues designed the information campaign with a professional marketing company, thus ensuring a high quality package.