This blog is written by Kate Lapham, Deputy Director of the Open Society Foundations’ Education Support Program, and the author of a case study on accountability and education in Tajikistan commissioned for the 2017/8 GEM Report. The blog is part of a series showing that accountability in education is shaped by a country’s history and political, social, and cultural context.
Background: Tajikistan’s education system
Tajikistan inherited its education system from the Soviet Union. The result at independence was a highly centralized system of formal schooling with clear lines of accountability from the school to the district education department to the provincial education authorities to the Ministry of Education. The literacy rate in Tajikistan is estimated officially at 99.5%. However, it is difficult to chart the trajectory of learning achievement in the education system because there is little data available.
In Tajikistan there is pride in the accomplishments of the Soviet era. At the same time, challenges in the education sector, especially the lack of funds, are widely known. In terms of formal accountability for these shortfalls, there are detailed regulations and standards that are often impossible to implement because infrastructure has deteriorated, learning materials are not universally available, and education institutions must often make compromises to accommodate students with the resources available.
Running alongside, and sometimes in conflict with formal accountability, is informal accountability, which takes the forms of social norms of responsibility and reciprocity to one’s family and community. Informal accountability related to social networks is strongly felt in Tajikistan and has an impact on the way that actors within the education system negotiate between what is formally required, what communities want for their children, and what is possible to keep the school system functioning.
Who is accountable for ensuring schools are heated?
Standards related to health and hygiene are set by the central government. They require schools to be heated during the winter months and presuppose sufficient resources from the public budget. But, in reality, schools do not receive sufficient resources from municipal budgets for maintenance or fuel. Teachers often use small stoves to heat individual classrooms. The fire hazard this presents runs against the formal standards, but the alternative is suspending schooling or a freezing classroom. Schools often ask students’ families to contribute fuel for the stove – a contribution that is also not explicitly regulated.
At the same time, parents (and often grandparents in the case of families affected by labour migration) are formally accountable for ensuring that their children attend school through the end of ninth grade by the Law on Parental Responsibility. Socially (and informally), they are responsible for safeguarding the health, security, and livelihood of the family. In practice, then, these different responsibilities run up alongside each other, and school personnel and families must negotiate compromises, perhaps unofficially suspending classes during the coldest periods, but keeping them running with the help of stoves in other times. School personnel are rarely called to account because the practice is so commonplace, but selective enforcement of the standards does happen, and is often linked to social or political reasons.
The example above shows how formal accountability is sometimes overlooked for the system to continue functioning, but also provides an idea about how formal accountability could easily be invoked and selectively enforced. In this context, accountability in Tajikistan’s education system becomes a combination of selective enforcement through official channels and adherence to social norms.
Who is accountable for ensuring children with disabilities attend school?
Another consequence of the tension between formal and informal accountability structures is aversion to risk and opposition to change. The discrimination often faced by children with disabilities trying to enter their community school provides an illustration.
Since children with disabilities are viewed as simultaneously less valuable and more fragile than other children, the ever-present fear of selective enforcement of standards and regulations provides a powerful incentive for schools to exclude them.
During a visit to a rural school, a head teacher showed me a large hole in the second floor of the building. She indicated that this would be dangerous for children with disabilities because they could fall through it and be injured. In fact, anyone in the school could easily be injured. However, responsibility for injury of children without disabilities could be passed on to the district education department because they were aware of the problem and did nothing to repair it. The head teacher feared that accepting a child with disabilities without the express instructions of the district education department or Ministry of Education would turn the responsibility for that child’s potential injury back to her decision to act on her own initiative and enrol the child. Better to avoid the risks of selective enforcement from the district education department, which could be reinforced by the informal accountability mechanism of parents’ disapproval. Thus, she decided to provide home tutoring for the child with disabilities even though she acknowledged the isolation and inferior learning opportunities of this situation and expressed genuine regret.
As is clear, education providers walk a fine line between maintaining sufficient connection and engagement with the community to ensure the continued functioning of the school on the one hand and maintaining official lines of accountability on the other.
- Address the problem of selective enforcement by simplifying the regulations and standards governing the education sector to reflect the best possible practices in the current reality.
- Develop mechanisms for the transparent use and reporting of contributions from parents and sponsors that are currently informal. This would also make the real costs incurred by the education sector more explicit.
2017/8 GEM Report recommendations
|Governments must make the right to education justiciable in national law, which is not the case in 45% of countries.||The right to education is justiciable in national law.|
|Governments should be transparent about the strengths of weaknesses of education systems, opening policy processes to broad and meaningful consultation and publishing a regular education monitoring report.||Tajikistan has not produced a national education monitoring report since 2010.|
|Governments should fulfil their commitment of spending at least 4% of GDP on education or allocating 15% of total government expenditure.||Tajikistan has reached both the two financing targets for education, spending 5% of GDP and 16% of public expenditure on education.|