I had heard (and read) about the community schools in Nepal for several years. Last February, I finally had a chance to visit them. Community-run schools are often seen as a potentially powerful way of improving accountability for results. While there are many variations across the world, the basic idea is actually quite simple: give parents and community members the authority to make key decisions (such as hiring teachers) and managing resources.
This is what the 2004 World Development Report refers to as client power.
I was excited to be able to observe firsthand how this governance reform may have changed power relations at the school level. The first thing I noticed when arriving at the schools was a highly-visible inscription in the front showing the detailed accounts of the various sources of funds for the school constructions (see image below). Not revolutionary, but a positive sign, I thought.
In each of the schools we met with the principal, teachers and the members of the school board. This is when things started to get really interesting. I knew that in most schools there are both government teachers (civil servants) and community teachers (hired by the school board). After posing some general questions, I asked what the difference between the two was. The head of the school board (a Dalit) explained in a matter-of-fact fashion, ‘the community teachers respond to us’, and quickly added that this means that they show up more regularly than the government teachers.
Later, one of the teachers stood up and gave a long explanation of why the government should once again take responsibility for school management. To my surprise, the head of the school board quickly responded by expressing his disagreement and arguing that having the community in charge was making schools work better.
I can’t tell from a few school visits how typical this reaction is, but I left with the strong impression that what I had seen in that school was a radical shift in the balance of power – a necessary condition for change.