Inter Press Service
Two years have already passed since the global education goal, SDG 4, was set by governments. But the vision of that goal has not yet fully trickled down to the country level. We need to know who is responsible for achieving this goal.
Effective accountability can help with this, holding people to their obligations. These need to be set down in laws and regulations, giving us all clear sign posts against which we can fall back if standards fail. Without these clear sign posts, negative practices are left unchecked.
Accreditation processes, for instance, make sure that schools and institutions meet certain standards before they can start accepting students. If these aren’t met, the schools or institutions can face probation, restrictions or closure.
But handling these processes requires resources and skills that many countries don’t have enough of – or aren’t prioritizing enough. For example, in Indonesia, 97% of children attend private pre-schools, only 8% of which are accredited. The country’s 200 accreditation staff simply can’t get through the over 140,000 early childhood institutions that need to be checked.
If schools or institutions aren’t regulated that means there is absolutely no guarantee that the students sitting in their classrooms are being taught correctly. This has serious consequences. India has about 1 million rural medical practitioners who are not graduates of accredited schools, for instance, which is a fairly worrying thought.
Government and court records showed that, between 2010 and 2015, at least 69 of the 398 medical colleges and teaching hospitals in India had been accused of rigging entrance examinations or accepting bribes to admit students. Twenty-four of those colleges ended up being closed down by regulators.
The newest Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, Accountability in education: meeting our commitments, is adamant that accreditation processes should be applied equally for public and private institutions, but this is often not the case.
In countries that have seen a recent proliferation in private institutions, regulations are still playing catch-up to developments. In January last year, about 80% or 3,422 of 4,274 higher education institutions in Indonesia were not accredited, implying that three-quarters of graduates earned illegitimate diplomas.
Setting standards through regulations would also do a lot to stem the tide of private tutors settling into the education system. The industry, which is likely to be worth US$227 billion by 2022, is becoming a sort of parallel education system in many countries.
In Cambodia, households accounted for 69% of national education spending in 2011, a fact linked to high rates of private supplementary tuition and indicating that education is far from free. But, without regulations, it is driving an even larger wedge between the poor and rich in education.
In Bangladesh, for instance, where at least half of high school students use private tutoring, only about 43% of children from the poorest fifth of households going to primary school in Bangladesh received supplementary tuition compared to 67% from the richest.
In India, about 40% of urban secondary students received private tutoring compared with about 26% of rural students.
To truly illustrate the magnitude of the inequality divide, it is important to look at expenditure on private tuition. Richer households and urban households are not only more likely to receive supplementary tuition, but also to spend more on more experienced tutors, purchase individual rather than group tutoring, and purchase more hours.
In Bangladesh, the richest households spend four times more than poorest households on supplementary tuition in primary education, and a staggering 15 times as much on private tuition as poorer households in secondary education.
Despite these inequalities, most countries typically have no regulations on private tutoring or lack the will or capacity to monitor or penalize tutorial centres. Lack of capacity to monitor such centres in Bangladesh, for example, has undermined government attempts to cap tutoring fees.
With barely any regulations on the practice at all, there is nothing to stop teachers from also being private tutors, which can create conflicts of interest, and damage learning in school.
In Nepal, for instance, teachers covered less material in school to increase demand for tutoring. Poorer students who did not enrol in private tutoring did worse on exit exams.
To remedy these issues in education systems, a number of actors need to take action: teachers, schools, and the private sector all have important roles to play and respect codes of conduct.
However, governments in particular need to generate momentum by putting in place accountability structures and regulations. As the GEM Report underlines, such accountability systems are necessary if we are to make progress towards the global education goal. They are the difference between an education system that is effective and one that is not.