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As well as understanding the content of the budget, and the process of budget management, it is also important to understand what information influences the planning and budgeting process; asking for example: Where does the budget team get their information from, what methods do they use?

For example, at local level the school is likely to take stock of its student and teacher numbers, its infrastructure, text books and other learning materials, school dinners, etc. A school should also look at its development plans and commitments as well as its income sources. Pulling this information together, the SMC should develop an annual plan and budget which reflects their commitments and expenditure priorities. However, there may be additional, relevant information that the school is not considering. For example, the number of out of school children locally and the costs of getting them into school, or the costs associated with achieving quality education.

An example from practice: Participatory action research

In 2004, ActionAid coordinated participatory action research in eight countries to look at the contribution to education expected from poor and marginalised families. The main tools used in the cost and mobilisation research were an Income and Expenditure Tree, produced to represent typical household income and expenditure in the village; and an Income and Expenditure Calendar, detailing in particular the range of educational costs, the quantity, and when payment was expected. In most areas groups of parents, youths, teachers, SMC members and government officials were asked to discuss the issues independently,  looking at what might be considered reasonable costs and why; or what action they could take to change the present reality.

The research showed huge variability in costs within and between countries. For example, in Guatemala costs ranged from 40 to 900 Queztals in different areas of the country; while Bangladesh reported massively increasing costs as students move up the education system. A similar pattern was seen in Uganda, where secondary education costs were about five times that of primary schooling. The majority of countries found uniforms to be the most expensive item, while many countries also had significant expenditure on extra tuition fees. For example, in Uganda, Ghana, Mali, Haiti and Nigeria there was pressure on children to attend coaching classes before or after school and the teachers frequently used these classes to supplement their incomes.

In addition to financial contributions, families were also expected to make a range of in-kind contributions for example providing labour on the farms or within the school, arranging transport for school meals, etc. Although these costs were prohibitive in many areas (in some places poor families could be expected to contribute 50 per cent of their family income to educate one child); families often commented that they would be happy to contribute to the education of their child, as long as it was of good quality seeing good quality education as a return on investment.