New GEM Report says ‘Don’t just blame the teacher when the system is at fault’

UNesco3 FFThe 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report was released today at global events in Maputo, Mozambique, Brasilia, Brazil and in London, UK. It stresses that accountability is indispensable in achieving SDG 4. The Report highlights the responsibility of governments to provide universal education of good quality. But it warns that disproportionate blame on teachers or schools for systemic educational problems can have serious negative side effects, widening inequality and damaging learning.

The second report in the GEM Report series, Accountability in education: meeting our commitments, shows that achieving SDG 4 is a shared responsibility between us all – governments, schools, teachers, parents, students, private actors and the international community. But the type of accountability countries choose to set up for these responsibilities must be designed carefully. Accountability must be used as a mean to education ends, such as equity and quality, it cautions, and not seen as an end in itself.

People are more likely to deliver if held accountable for decisions. If held accountable for outcomes beyond their control, they will try to avoid risk, minimize their role or adjust their behaviour in unintended ways to protect themselves, which may mean leaving the weakest learners behind.

Rushing to conclusions, for example exclusively blaming teachers  for absenteeism, is often unconstructive and unjust. In Indonesia in 2013/14 for example, nearly half of teacher absenteeism was due to excused time for study for which replacements should have been provided. Similarly, in Senegal, only 12 of the 80 missed school days in 2014 were due to teachers avoiding their responsibilities.

The Director of the Report, Manos Antoninis, will be telling 30 ministers of eduation at the Innovation Summit Maputo, Mozambique, today that “if a government is too quick to apportion blame to others, it is likely deflecting attention away from its own responsibility for creating a strong, supportive education system.”

Unesco - Right to Education updatedThis is because accountability starts with governments, which are responsible for fulfilling the right to education. Strong independent bodies such as ombudsmen, parliaments and audit institutions are needed to hold them to account for education. Monitoring and evaluation of education progress must also become more systematic, yet only one in six governments prepare a regular annual education monitoring report for public scrutiny.

These mechanisms are particularly critical for preventing abuse of power for private gain. In the European Union in 2009-2014, 38% of education and training tenders only had one bidder, compared to 16% of tenders in the construction sector, indicating that the risk of corruption is higher in education than in the building industry.

Setting and enforcing regulations ranging from contract tendering to teacher qualifications are also crucial, argues the Report. There are no regulations on class sizes in almost half of countries. Yet, regulations are often aspirational in poorer countries. Fewer than half of low and middle income countries had standards for early childhood education and just a handful had mechanisms to monitor compliance.

The enforcement of regulations is often too weak in countries experiencing a fast growth of private schools and universities. In Lagos, Nigeria, only 26% of private schools had been approved by the State Ministry of Education. In countries with weak accreditation processes for higher education, thousands of students graduate with unrecognized degrees. But countries are also strengthening compliance mechanisms. In Kenya and Uganda, private schools were operating without qualified teachers and with inadequate infrastructure before regulations were put in place and courts shut them down.

Where formal mechanisms for accountability fail, the Report calls on citizens to continue holding governments to account for meeting their right to education. In Colombia, a citizens’ campaign successfully challenged the government in court leading to the establishment of free education. In the United States, parents and media successfully lobbied for the removal of climate change denial from textbooks, and students in South Africa were able to halt university tuition hikes.

Accountability matters

The Report emphasizes the importance of accountability in addressing persistent education problems. Globally, less than 20% of countries legally guarantee 12 years of free and compulsory education. There are 264 million children and youth out of school and 100 million young people are currently unable to read. Little is known about the education of 250 million people, mostly vulnerable and disadvantaged, who are excluded from household surveys. No one is accountable for the education of this invisible population.

There is also another accountability vacuum, with donors not delivering on their aid commitments for those in need and aid to education stagnant since 2010. The Report also calls for donors to be careful in making aid available through results-based mechanisms that shift risk to countries that are the least prepared to bear it.

No approach to accountability will be successful without a strong enabling environment that provides actors with adequate resources, capacity, motivation and information to fulfil their responsibilities. The Report calls on governments to:

  1. Design accountability for schools and teachers that is supportive and formative and avoids punitive mechanisms, especially those based on narrow performance measures.
  2. Develop credible and efficient regulations with associated sanctions for all education providers, public and private, that ensure non-discrimination and the quality of education.
  3. Make the right to education justiciable, which is not the case in 45% of countries.
  4. Be transparent about the strengths of weaknesses of education systems, opening policy processes to broad and meaningful consultation and publishing a regular education monitoring report.

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