Policy Recommendation: Opening the Blackbox of School Funds
In our first policy recommendation, we are looking into an important topic: money.
Governmental schools are entitled to receive an annual Composite School Grant under the new central scheme Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SMSA). However, past experience has shown that funds are often delayed, unreliable and intrasparent. Further, there a various issues regarding School Management Committees which are meant to plan and oversee expenediture.
Our recommendation relies heavily on technology and participation thus allowing a real-time social audit of school expenditures. This will fight corruption and increase transparency.
The amount of the new grant depends on the enrolment number:
So far, fund flows to schools were often obscure and irregular. Various studies, most famously the PAISA studies, have illustrated the lack of transparency and accountability in the system. Often, it is not known where funds are, whether they will come and if so, when. Funds arriving in the last weeks of the financial years often resulted in whitewashing walls to quickly produce utilization certificates. Large scale irregularities and time gaps between release and utilization lead to a dim review by the C&AG. All this contributes to insecurities by school headmasters and SMCs who can never plan or know when (and if) funds will arrive.
A huge amount was left unutilised at the SIS every year despite schools having high needs for funds to maintain buildings and to buy TLMs:
The school system is segregated. Governmental schools are to a high proportion occupied by children from the lower strata of society, many of them being first generation learners. Their parents, who constitute the bulk of SMC members, are thus often illiterate and not aware about the entitlements they have, and their roles and responsibilities. Trainings of SMCs remained irregular and ineffective, the very concept of down-up-planning being alien to the State machinery. Low capacity and a general apathy towards responsiveness of lower level bureaucrats (often caused by a lack of factual decision power) have further demotivated parents to take action in their children’s school’s management.
To escape this low equilibrium of dysfunctionality and corrupt practices, we propose a technology-based disruption which is informed by various large scale experiences throughout the country and beyond. Low capacity of frontline bureaucrats and a system of patronage, clientelism and corruption often prevent innovative programs from getting properly implemented. Our focus is on de facto practice and not on de jure policy design. Therefore, we suggest a mainstreaming of funds from the SIS to the SMC account without the district being involved. Such a step can help to prevent delays and leakages and it frees the lower bureaucracy from the odd task of merely forwarding money. Composite funds are fixed according to the enrollment numbers which are available to the government in U-DISE. Therefore, there is no role for the District in the fund disbursement.
Further, using technology must go beyond smartphone apps and websites which are inaccessible to SMC members. In contrast, mobiles with SMS and call functions are usually readily available. To facilitate participation by citizens, regular State intervention is required. The cooperation between citizens and the State in the field of school education has collapsed. To rebuild this cooperation requires the State to open up and to constantly inform citizens about their entitlements. At the same time, accessible grievance redressal mechanisms must be made available. Yet, these mechanisms must lead to action to avoid frustration.
Our approach is a monthly information of SMC members by SMS/text-to-voice-call by a unit of the SIS. SMC members will be informed about the total fund entitlement, the amount received so far and the position of the funds not yet received in the system. Further, SMC members will be asked to verify utilization certificates by SMS/text-to-voicecalls. Complaints and irregularity notices can be filed immediately using this same system which will be interconnected with a restructured MIS. To allow this realtime social audit, the process of providing utilization information and the feeding process into the MIS must be revised. We suggest equipping schools with machinereadable forms. These forms can be filled up by the school with a pen and sent to the SIS unit by registered post in barcoded envelopes. They will be sent to the SIS within a week after the expenditure. The SIS unit will automatically scan and feed the information into the MIS. By this approach, almost real-time information for SMC members can be ensured.
We have carefully studies many papers to draw the conclusions we drew in the paper. Among them were:
Jha/Rani(Ed.) (2016): Right to Education in India. London: Routledge India.
Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Implementation of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Report 23 of 2017.
Mehrotra/Indrakumar/Saxena (2012): Management Information System (MIS) of Indian Government’s Flagship Programmes: Are they an adequate monitoring tool? IAMR Occasional Paper No. 5/2012.
Andrews/Pritchett/Woolcock (2017): Building State Capacity: Evidence, Analysis, Action. Oxford University Press.
Banerjee/Duflo/Imbert/Mathew/Pande (2017): E-Governance, Accountability, and Leakage in Public Programs: Experimental Evidence from a Financial Reform Management Reform in India. Working Paper, August 2017. J-PAL.
PAISA studies and various other papers by the Accountability Initiative/CPR.
Stocktaking Reports of the RTE Forum.
Kugelman/Husain (Ed.) (2018): Pakistan’s Institutions: We Know They Matter, But How Can They Work Better? The Wilson Center.
We are therefore heavily indebted to all of these organizations and authors.
You can download the PDF here.