Education is a linchpin of inclusive economic development. Yet countries in Africa and elsewhere too often fail poor students. This failure of education to deliver for poor students not only worsens inequity and exclusion today, but also undermines economic opportunities for future generations. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, one of the biggest reasons for failing education systems in the global south is actually corruption, not just a lack of resources. And one does not need to read the report but the Council on Foreign Affairs to know this, corruption is becoming endemic in some African countries if not most. 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.
On this, 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.
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.