by Blanca Munguía
In Honduras, like in many other countries around the world, the right to quality education is protected by the constitution. In practice, however, most children do not reach satisfactory levels of learning in the educational system. The 2017 National Academic Performance Report showed that across grades 1 to 9, 60% of students scored “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” in the core subjects of mathematics and Spanish. Is this a failure of the Honduran state educational system alone? Or are there other actors that can contribute to ensuring a quality education for children and adolescents?
In our experience, community participation in “Comités de Veedores” (Oversight Committees) has helped improve the quality of education. [Veeduría can also be translated as monitoring, observation, inspection or supervision.] These committees, made up of community members, watch over their local schools and advocate for better educational quality by monitoring the performance of teachers and the level of student learning.
One concrete result has been a noticeable increase in the number of days schools are open, with students saying, “Now we don’t lose class time!” For example, one oversight committee identified an educational center which, during a 40-day period, had suspended classes on 20 days for different reasons. After implementing the oversight process, the same school successfully provided 99% of the class days required by law the following year.
This initiative emerged from a series of meetings organized by Transformemos Honduras (“Let’s Transform Honduras”). These meetings, called tarde de café con sabor a esperanza (“conversations flavoured with hope”), brought together various community leaders around a common goal, namely, that their communities would have educational centers that provide high-quality education. These leaders carried out a community diagnosis which examined the reality faced by each of the schools, including their specific strengths and weaknesses, and the process led to a decision to systematically monitor the schools’ activities and ensure that the services they provided met higher quality standards.
This important community decision propelled the implementation of community watchdog processes across the education sector, resulting in meetings with local authorities as well as the highest educational authorities in the country. Training was developed for local community members on social oversight and about legal regulations concerning citizens’ rights and duties.
Then they coordinated with the educational authorities at different levels, including school principals, to proceed with the implementation of the school oversight committees. Reaching out to these decision makers was critical in explaining that the oversight process is intended as an opportunity to improve the school’s quality and ultimately to benefit the children.
Oversight committee meetings became spaces of learning and citizen empowerment, since at the beginning the members had many fears of approaching the teachers. Historically, there has been a vertical relationship between teachers and community members. In some cases, the same teachers had taught these committee members when they were children, so visiting the teachers now as adults in an oversight role became a huge challenge. The constant technical support the project provided to the committees in the early stages of their implementation was a critical element for the achievement of the positive results enjoyed today.
School oversight committees have been successful in pressing for and monitoring school progress in key areas. So, for example, oversight committees have undertaken daily monitoring exercises that have tracked when schools are open, monitoring schools’ commitment to fulfilling the 200 days of school required by law. Observers from the committees are distributed to the educational centers and daily write in a notebook whether classes are in session, to verify compliance with the law.
Observers also collect information to document the use of class time in schools, by making visits to the school without prior notice to teachers. They fill in a form to collect information regarding the schedules, duration of classes, activities that interrupt classes, presence of teachers, principals and parents in the center and good practices. The results of the data are used to advocate to the authorities so that the one thousand hours of class required per year are used effectively.
The oversight committees consolidate and analyze the information they gather, generating a preliminary report on the schools in their communities, complete with findings and recommendations for improvement. This report is shared with the school principals for them to review and validate. If school principals have any observations about these reports, they can send them to the committee with supporting documentation to make the pertinent corrections. Then the revised, final report is delivered to the relevant government authorities and shared with other stakeholders, such as parents and teachers.
A commitment is obtained from the principals to consider the recommendations made in the reports and to prepare improvement plans, which include concrete actions that respond to the recommendations and improve the quality of service provided. The improvement plans are monitored by the oversight committees who use a table to track which activities are carried out and which are not. This oversight exerts healthy pressure on the schools to comply with the plans.
The challenge in making school oversight committees into truly effective bodies that strengthen school quality and foster greater accountability by schools to their surrounding communities is constant and great. Yet, as Doña Alma, an oversight committee member, observes: “Although two of my grandchildren have been killed, I believe I have a civic duty to fight for all the children of my community to have a different future. Even if some teachers don’t like it, I will continue with my work in the oversight committee because I do not lose hope that the situation in my country will improve.”
It is truly everyone’s responsibility to ensure the education of our children. School oversight committees are a concrete way that communities can exercise this responsibility.
Blanca Munguía works with the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras, an MCC partner.
This article was originally published in Intersections: MCC theory & practice quarterly, Summer 2019, Vol. 7, Issue 3. Original title: Oversight committees help hold schools accountable