School Management Committees and school improvement

[Individual articles from the Summer 2019 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Education is a human right! The School Management Committee (SMC) is the driving force responsible for ensuring this right to every child in their community. An SMC has the responsibility to manage its school with a business mindset and determine the most effective way to use limited resources in order to deliver quality education services in the community the SMC represents.

School improvement and accountability movements have challenged schools and districts to develop plans for how they will produce better results. The Zimbabwean government, seeking to maintain its reputation within Africa for its high-quality schooling and to keep up the country’s high literacy rate, has devised a lot of innovations to improve the quality of education in all teaching/learning institutions in the country. One such innovation was to introduce decentralized governance of the schools, to give local communities more say in the management and administration of the schools through the formation of School Management Committees.

SMCs are typically comprised of parents, teachers and headmasters. However, MCC Zimbabwe, in consultation with school administrators and SMCs, has realized that SMCs are even stronger if they also include local leaders (e.g., chiefs, village heads, local council members, business community leaders) and students.

SMCs have a variety of roles, but one of the most important is their role in managing the use of financial and other local resources for the improvement of the school. The committees manage funds from levies paid by the parents and small grants from the government whenever they are made available. During periodic meetings with parents and other stakeholders (including Ministry of Education officials and local leadership, such as chiefs and village heads), the vision of the community is made public for implementation by the school authorities together with the SMC. Budget plans are laid out during the meetings and then spending decisions are ultimately made by the committee’s votes.

Sometimes non-governmental organizations partner with schools to pay the school levies for underprivileged students. When this happens, SMCs select the students that qualify for assistance and manage the use of the funds paid by the partner organizations.

Financial reports are shared and presented to the parents and other local stakeholders during the regular meetings which are usually held three times a year so that everyone is involved in monitoring how the accumulated funds are spent. The level of feedback and accountability is thus clear and transparent. In cases in which funds have not been used as planned, the parents as key stakeholders have the right to recall the elected members should they find that reasons for not using funds as planned are not satisfactory.

One challenge in rural Zimbabwe is that most parents struggle to pay the required school levies, hence SMCs also struggle to execute their mandate due to financial constraints. Where there are financial constraints, it is usually difficult to mobilize communities for unskilled labour as well.

Key stakeholders such as chiefs, village heads and ward councilors are important in overcoming these challenges. When these leaders spearhead the implementation, it builds confidence in communities and thereby promotes the community’s positive response, perceptions and participation. These leaders are the access points for other community members to the school and hence can influence and mobilize the community to provide resources and actively participate in the school. Local leadership is very influential in the Zimbabwean context, such that local leaders bear great authority to foster positive responses.

Effective SMCs also seek to mobilize young people to contribute to the school. Young adults who are not working can be contracted to provide much-needed unskilled labor, something that in turn gives young people a sense of ownership in the school, fostering a feeling of community members being micro-donors to the school rather than waiting for funding from somewhere else.

Another challenge is the need for the capacities of SMCs to be strengthened. MCC Zimbabwe walks the SMCs through the budgeting and reporting processes for prioritizing and managing limited resources. To further support the committees in gaining confidence in managing funds, MCC Zimbabwe provides grants to the schools and the SMCs are responsible for how the grant is used. They plan, budget and purchase, with MCC staff playing an advisory role.

In Binga district, communities have undertaken massive projects such as building classroom blocks through mobilized community participation, with community members donating locally available material like stones and digging pit sand. Through SMC efforts, there have also been notable changes in the schools’ learning environments. The planning has led to the efficient use of funds to purchase learning and teaching materials. Moreover, there has also been an increase in the number of learners who passed their national examinations after these improvements.

It has been observed over time that if communities are empowered and stop viewing themselves as subservient, then they begin to view their environments differently, gaining new confidence in their ability to change their status quo. For instance, many communities in rural Zimbabwe have a lot of resources around them that they can use to their advantage, but due to lack of foresight they end up waiting for an external person or entity to come to their aid. However, the establishment of SMCs in Zimbabwe has fostered development in the schools through their coordinated effort in mobilizing the communities towards set goals. SMCs have created transparency and in turn community confidence has also increased, creating a fertile education environment for the children of that community.

Tinodashe Gumbo is education program officer for MCC Zimbabwe.

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