ActionAid Bangladesh have been engaged in budget work for about five years, supporting ‘school monitoring groups’ to develop school plans and alternative budgets – and then building links with the government to meet the budgetary requirements. The school budget is viewed as including financial and non-financial inputs, such as teachers and textbooks which are not budgeted for at school level. In this way, communities are able to discuss the range of inputs to their school, which is important when looking at budgets in relation to quality education. In many places the school budget is very small, consisting mainly of funds raised from parents or guardians, and is spent on additional school inputs, such as security guards, school gardens and maintenance of buildings. So it can be limiting to understand the budget in purely financial terms.
The project was carried out with the support of ‘local level budget analysts’, who were trained by the project team on budget analysis, the links between school and national budgets and education policy. These analysts were able to develop a similar process at local level. Building on an analysis of the family budget (to illustrate how everyone budgets in their lives) the local level budget analysts worked with community members to examine school assets (quality of buildings, teachers, size of classes, number of contact hours, etc.). This was followed by a visioning exercise to enable stakeholders to describe their dream-school. Through comparing the current assets and the necessary inputs for their dream school the group was able to identify where the shortages were and develop plans to fill the gaps. From this, the school monitoring groups were able to prepare yearly plans for the school, and demand the required budget from the government. The project has had differing levels of success. A clear benefit has been a revived school management committee and much greater parental involvement in the school. There are much stronger links between parents and teachers, and parents are more supportive of teachers, understanding their skills, knowledge and commitment to education. In addition there is much greater awareness of the links between paying taxes and the right to education as this quote illustrates:
‘We pay tax to the government; we also pay additional taxes by purchasing the daily necessities but the government does not care about our right to education,… We don’t want much, but the government does not fulfil our basic requirement… the government must emphasise, facilitate and ensure primary education for all.’
However, an example from Chitmorom School illustrates the limitations of the approach. Here the need for two more teachers was identified, but government policy meant that these teachers could not be hired. The group also concluded
that a new classroom was needed, but the same policy prevented its construction. Unfortunately, losing motivation the parents group abandoned their campaign for a new teacher and classroom. The focus of the work had been on local level action and the local government was just not able to meet the demands of the group. Those involved in the work commented on the need to link local to national advocacy: ‘it is difficult to make policy changes through only local level advocacy initiatives; the community felt the need for a regional and national body to advocate the local demand’. Clearly the project would have benefited from research and understanding of the national policy arena, before embarking on the school visioning process. This would have enabled ActionAid Bangladesh to support the group more actively, as well as help them target their action plans.
A possible way forward?
As part of this initiative ActionAid Bangladesh produced a newsletter which highlighted the experiences of different school monitoring groups – and was distributed to all schools involved in the project. The newsletter served as a learning tool – to give people ideas and inspiration as to how to take their work forward, as well as to recognise and congratulate those doing innovative and exciting work.
In a different initiative, a few months after this intervention, ActionAid Bangladesh coordinated some research to understand the impact of the IMF policies on the achievement of the education MDG. This research showed how the national government of Bangladesh had been constrained from increasing its public expenditure due to loan conditions agreed with the IMF. This additional knowledge helps put the challenges of government policy faced in the Chitmorom experience in perspective. The government could not hire additional teachers or fund classroom construction because of the restrictions on public expenditure. This suggests new targets and focus for campaigning and advocacy work. ActionAid Bangladesh could use the newsletter as well as the links they have with community groups to further mobilise people, and involve them in the campaign to overcome the macro- economic conditions which are preventing the achievement of education for all.