Terra Lawson-Remer, Fellow for Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy
Education is a linchpin of inclusive economic development, but poor countries in Africa and elsewhere too often fail poor students—worsening inequity and exclusion today, and undermining economic opportunities for future generations. Although more funding from rich donor countries for developing countries to invest in education would help, one of the biggest reasons for failing education systems in the global south is actually corruption, not just a lack of resources. This is particularly a problem in Zimbabwe, where corruption and official impunity remains endemic.
Money allocated by communities and governments to pay teachers and buy books too often ends up lining the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats. A simple but effective strategy to improve educational outcomes is budget transparency, which allows parents and students to hold officials accountable for spending resources wisely and teachers accountable for delivering services. Transparency means making information about educational expenditures widely available to parents and communities, so they can compare the resources promised with those that are actually delivered. For example, schools in Uganda saw dramatic improvements after nailing budgets to the doors of schoolhouses, so parents could agitate when they realized discrepancies between paper budgets and real resources and expenditures.
Civil society must also have the power to demand accountability from officials when they suspect corruption and waste, so transparency requires at least a basic level of participatory democracy in order to make a difference. In this regard, Zimbabwe and other undemocratic countries face a particular challenge. But genuine budget transparency, accompanied by watchful agitation from a civil society that refuses to acquiesce to nepotism and exclusion, would make an important contribution to improving educational quality for students around the world.