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Changing power relations: Community schools in Nepal

Ariel Fiszbein's picture

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.


Submitted by Helen Abadzi on
IEG evaluations show unsatisfactory ratings and different conclusions. See on the IEG website the 2009 Nepal Country Assistance Evaluation and the Nepal Community Schools Project Performance assessment review. (I was one of them.)

Thanks Ariel for sharing with us - "your notes from the field," - (a phrase used by Jishnu Das), which I have come to enjoy repeating. I also noticed that Harry Patrinos in the Education Sector (HDNED), also blogged about a similar topic on Education for Global Development -- school autonomy, in a post, entitled "Waiting for School Autonomy". Harry wrote that "Mexico, through more limited school autonomy programs, has been able to improve schooling outcomes for students in the poorest and most indigenous schools in the country. There are many other countries one could list. In fact, at the Word Bank alone, more than 20 school autonomy or school-based management programs are being assessed through a randomized or otherwise rigorous evaluation design." I would like to know if your Office (HD Office of the Chief Economist) is financing such impact evaluations through the Spanish Impact Evaluation Fund?,,contentMDK:22383030~menuPK:6508083~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:5485727,00.html

Nicole: Yes, we have helped finance several impact evaluation studies for community schools or school-based management schemes (including Nepal and Mexico). There will be a chapter on the lessons from those evaluations in a forthcoming volume by Barbara Bruns, Deon Filmer and Harry Patrinos on school accountability.

Submitted by Scott Guggenheim on
Ariel, It would be good to get early access to these school evaluations. I visited Nepal a year ago together with Joel Hellman, from South Asia, as part of a oneweek, on-foot cross-cutting local governance review. We too were extremely impressed by Nepal's community school program. And yet we heard highly critical reports about findings from the forthcoming IEG review -- as well as lots of critical comments about bias in the IEG approach as well. Since we're hoping to draw on lessons from Nepal for some large pilots in eastern Indonesia, it would be good to get a better take on this entire controvery. I'm sympathetic to both sides -- I strongly support use of rigorous evaluations before we draw policy inferences, and yet at the same time I've seen IEG's biases against community programs at play in other arenas. Any thoughts on hows to increase the signal to noise ratios in these discussions?

Scott is raising the critical question of the strength of evidence regarding the impact of community schools. In terms of the Nepal experience, a rigorous impact evaluation study by Nazmul Chaudhury and Dilip Parajuli of the World Bank found a significant impact on certain schooling outcomes related to access and equity, but no effect on learning outcomes. There is a broader impact evaluation literature on the subject which shows that in some settings (e.g. in Mexico) community involvement in school management has positive effects on learning outcomes. A forthcoming volume by Barbara Bruns, Deon Filmer and Harry Patrinos (Making Schools Work) reviews the accumulating evidence from impact evaluation studies on a range of school accountability reforms. The volume will be released on February 28.

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