Transferring funds directly from the central government to schools has become a common approach to school improvement globally, including in GPE’s partner developing countries.
Commonly known as school grants, the aims and the design of these programs can vary across countries. Some school grants aim to increase access to school, others focus on quality improvements, and some aim to achieve both.
To contribute to the global knowledge on school grants, GPE has co-funded research in DRC, Haiti, Madagascar and Togo. The research, which took place between 2013 and 2016, was led by UNESCO IIEP and conducted in partnership with ministries of Education and local researchers. As the project concluded, the research teams and ministries of Education met to reflect on their experiences.
Which schools were included in the study?
Although each school grant program was designed from scratch, 3 out of the 4 countries already had experience working with school grants (DRC, Madagascar, and Togo).
Each country had its own specific selection criteria to help determine which schools to include in the program. Generally, the size of the school (number of children enrolled) was a determining factor, as was the geographical location (rural or urban), with rural schools being prioritized.
Togo also chose to focus specifically on schools in which learning outcomes were low though none of the countries made the transfer of funds conditional upon school performance.
What did the grants aim to achieve?
Increasing equitable access to school for children from poor households was the clear goal of the school subsidies program across all four countries.
In the four countries, it is common for parents to be expected to contribute to the running costs of their local schools by paying fees and levies. This can make it impossible for children from poor households to enroll.
In DRC, Haiti and Togo, the aim of the grants was to facilitate access to free universal primary education by replacing financial contributions from parents and caregivers. In Madagascar the aim was to lessen the burden on parents, but not to eliminate household contributions completely.
The studies revealed that school grants did not eliminate household contributions in any of the school communities. Parents were still asked to contribute by schools in all four countries and made up the largest part of the school’s budget. In some cases parents were asked to contribute because the grants arrived later than expected, and in other cases it was because the grants did not cover all the school expenses. One of UNESCO’s recommendations from the research is to assess the financial needs of target schools during the design of school grants programs.
Madagascar and Togo also cited improving school quality as a secondary aim.
How was the money spent?
In DRC and Haiti, the decision on how to spend the money was usually made by the head teacher, sometimes in collaboration with teachers, and ratified by the school management committee. In Togo the local education advisors, who inspect schools, managed the funds. In Madagascar, the teachers proposed a list of needs which was considered by the school management committee and the parent-teacher association, with the final decision by a vote in a general assembly.
In the four countries, the schools used the money to invest in basic teaching materials including chalk, sponges and textbooks. Small maintenance tasks were also frequently covered by the grants. In Haiti, Madagascar and Togo, the grants went to offset staff costs.
In Haiti the grants were used towards staff salaries in non-state schools and in Madagascar and Togo the subsidies offset the transport costs borne by the head teacher or other teachers for transport required to carry out the school’s work.
What was the feedback from the schools?
Schools in Haiti, DRC and Togo all agreed that the school grant was too small, and that more money was needed.
Schools in Madagascar and Togo did not receive their funds on time, and had to ask parents for contributions while they waited for the grants to arrive.
Schools in DRC and Togo felt that they were limited in how they could spend the funds, and would have preferred greater autonomy.
Communication and transparency was a concern for communities in Haiti who were unclear on how much money the school had received, and how the head teacher was spending it.
What did the research tell us?
The sample size in the four countries was very small – 15 schools per country, making it unwise to draw firm conclusions from the data. No evidence about the impact on school quality is available.
However, interviews with schools and communities showed that there was a perception that school grants had increased equitable access to school for students from poor households, despite not replacing fees from parents completely.
Watch a documentary video about one family’s experiences with school grants in Madagascar (French only).
Watch interviews with the researchers from Haiti, Madagascar and Togo here (French only).