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Letting communities take charge: a randomized controlled trial on sustaining schools in remote villages in Afghanistan

Tue, April 16, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Street (Level 0), Plaza

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Community-based education (CBE) is an education service delivery model that intends to improve access and quality of primary education in remote or otherwise hard-to-reach areas. CBE represents a class or two inside a village located in a mosque or a room provided by the local communities. Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use the CBE model around the world and the model has seen great success in rural Afghanistan (Burde & Linden, 2013). In Afghanistan, CBE increased primary education attendance by 16 percentage points and children’s learning by 0.28 standard deviations (Burde, Middleton, & Samii, 2016). Moreover, Burde, Middleton, and Samii (2016) demonstrated that living in communities with CBE substantially increased trust and a sense of legitimacy of public service providers, not only for the NGOs that run the CBE classes, but also for national government legitimacy.

However, in Afghanistan, most CBE classes are started and managed by NGOs. At some point, NGOs end their programing, mostly due to the closing of funding cycles or change in program direction. Typically, the NGOs hand over the responsibility to continue the education provision in these villages to the Ministry of Education (MOE), given that the national government is mandated to provide public services to all. In reality, in most cases, such transitions do not succeed (Burde, Middleton, & Samii, 2015). Although initially educators believed that children who had access to CBE would go to the “nearest” government school to continue their schooling after CBE ceased to be offered in the village, government schools are not readily available “near” these villages. Burde and Linden (2013) showed how attendance drops dramatically even when distances between the village and government school are relatively short. One follow up study demonstrated that three years after such transition, only 42 out of 224 villages continued education services (Burde, Middleton, & Samii, 2015).

How to sustain the gains from CBE on education access and quality in the villages is one of the most critical issues in education in Afghanistan today. Creating mechanisms to continue the CBE classes inside the villages after NGOs withdraw is a challenge that the Afghan government is working to tackle. This panel will propose a model for the sustainability of community-based education in rural Afghanistan and present some of the outcomes from a four-year, randomized controlled trial (RCT), impact assessment on the efficacy of the sustainability model.

Theoretical framework and intervention:

The Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Social Effects of Community-based Education in Afghanistan (ALSE) is a four-year, mixed methods set of randomized controlled trials (RCT) assessing strategies for improving CBE funded by USAID, with a focus on testing a sustainability model to continue CBE classes inside villages in rural Afghanistan. In collaboration with two NGO implementing partners – CARE and CRS – and with the Afghan Ministry of Education, ALSE estimated the effects of CBE on children’s access to school, their learning achievements, and broader community attitudes toward education and the state, in its Phase I study in 2014 - 2016. In 2016 – 2018, for Phase II, ALSE tested a sustainability model that involves village-level community institutions in managing and continuing the CBE classes inside their villages once NGOs end programming. The sustainability model was motivated and informed by community-driven development (CDD).

CDD allows communities to engage in development and have direct control over decision-making and implementation processes (Mansuri & Rao, 2004). It is viewed as a mechanism for enhancing sustainability by empowering local communities, especially the poorest and most marginalized. As an alternative to the traditional top-down development approach, proponents see CDD as a mechanism for expanding service provision in contexts where the ability of the central government is severely limited (de Regt, Majumdar & Singh, 2013; DFID 2010; USAID 2007; World Bank 2006). Critics challenge CDD programs and examine whether they are producing the expected results, especially in creating an effective and sustainable governance infrastructure for local service provision and promoting the long-term institutionalization of equitable community-management structure (King & Samii, 2014; Mansuri & Rao, 2004).

In Afghanistan, CDD has informed national development policies and programs since the early 2000s. The government developed the National Solidarity Program (NSP) with the World Bank support and created village-level community institutions called Community Development Councils (CDCs) leveraging Afghanistan’s long tradition of shura involvement in decision-making processes for local communities. CDCs were responsible for identifying local needs and priorities, developing plans, and implementing projects at the village level using the block grants that the government distributed (Beath, Christia, & Enikolopov, 2015). In sum, CDD- informed initiatives produce promising results in service delivery to local communities. They offer a mechanism that can be supported for sustained public service provision. However, for the CDD approach to work more effectively in making more profound and transformational changes in local communities, Mansuri & Rao (2012) suggest a “sandwich” model which refers to a mid-level governance structure that coordinates between the top-down supervision and bottom-up local institutions. It is this mid-level institutional structure that guides the next and the most recent national government policy called the Citizen’s Charter National Priority Program, which inspired the ALSE’s CBE Sustainability model that this panel will address by covering several components of the research.

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