By Gaudence Kapinga, Country Facilitator RELI Tanzania
Despite popular opinion, students’ learning challenges are often caused by shortcomings in education policy and practice, rather than personal student inadequacies and disadvantages. As such, Global education actors have increasingly been using policy influencing as a tool to shape curricula and pedagogy, at national and regional levels. To this end, the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) is determined to strengthen its members’ capacity to use evidence-based policy influencing to improve learning outcomes for all children in East Africa.
RELI members share a common concern that the widespread lack of access to education for children in the region is the result of a gap between legislative processes and the everyday implementation-focused activities led by teachers, school administrators and local communities. Policy makers rarely fully consider what implementation of education policy might look like. They often leave key details at the discretion of administrators and educators, who, particularly at the local levels, often lack the capacity to develop practices that achieve policy goals and objectives. Furthermore, during the policy execution stage policy makers regularly make choices that result in changes in priorities or resource allocation. Therefore, we at RELI, think it is extremely important to monitor not only legislative processes concerning education, but also the implementation strategies that follow thereafter.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, differences in national approaches to integrating technology into education programs have yielded global disparities in education access. Ultimately, children left behind are in danger of lacking access to education if there is no coordinated effort taken by actors to actualize solutions that make learning possible for all children. To bridge the gap brought by technology in facilitating access to learning for learners who have no means to access contents in online platforms, Pastoral Women Council (PWC) designed a home learning kit and delivered to children in pastoral households in Northern Tanzania for them to continue learning home during the pandemic.
In East Africa, RELI uses a regional collaborative approach to uncover policy design and implementation failures that jeopardize children’s ability to enjoy their right to education. For example, RELI members in Tanzania discovered that educators at district and school levels could hardly execute key education policies, in part because they were written in a language they hardly understood. To address this challenge, RELI, through the Equity and Inclusive thematic group, worked with Tanzania’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to simplify the National Strategy for Inclusive Education (2018-2021) and support its distribution at a local level. Through this initiative, RELI has also been actively involved in the development of the new National Strategy for Inclusive Education (2021/22-2025/26) of which we championed the recognition of children in conflict with law to be included in the category of learners with special needs, the government has taken the recommendation and the new strategy which was launched in January 2022 has widened the categories of children with special needs.
Another remarkable policy initiative that RELI network members are spearheading is the Social Accountability Monitoring Project, which is being implemented at school and community level. This project empowers parents to monitor how school administrators use the funds (capitation grant) provided by central government to school operational expenses and preparation and sharing of financial reports publicly on the notice boards and official parents and school meetings. Parents are trained and given information on what the money should be spent on depending on the directive provided by the government and they are also trained on specific tools that they use to track the funds received, expenses incurred and reports provided. Evidences from some of the districts where RELI members are operating like Kilombero, Mvomero and Mtwara shows that social accountability monitoring has increased the level of transparency in financial management.
The evidence generated so far has demonstrated that the network has the potential to contribute significantly to education policies that affect learning outcomes for all children at local, national and regional levels. In its policy influencing agenda, RELI aspires to see education policy makers and stakeholders work together to develop effective policies that are easily accessible to all actors, particularly those working at the implementation level. This will bridge the gap between where education is crafted and where it is implemented.