When it comes to education, Tanzania’s children deserve better.
Elizabeth Missokia will be one of the first persons to tell lawmakers this. But she’s not the only person she thinks should be sending this message.
“Ordinary citizens have to be able to express their views and take actions to improve education.”
Missokia is the executive director of HakiElimu, a Tanzanian non-profit that facilitates community dialogue to transform local schools and influence policy making and practices in the education sector. Starting as a loose “friends of education” movement in 2001, HakiElimu currently has about 40,000 members who are actively engaged in ensuring good governance for their children.
“At the end of the day, having people who understand what is going on and what governmental decisions are affecting their children’s education is the only thing that can make government more responsive to their concerns,” says Missokia, a former USAID and CARE staffer. “They also have to know about where and how to follow up when things aren’t going right and local authorities have to understand what community engagement entails.”
Whether campaigning against the enrollment of unqualified teachers, or publicizing the reasons behind poor test scores or changing curricula, or advocating for budgetary increases for education or school inspections, HakiElimu is in the forefront of utilizing information about the shortcomings in the education department to influence politics.
“Education and politics in Tanzania are inseparable issues,” says Missokia, who has almost 15 years of experience in institutional strengthening, education, community development, and gender programming. “After primary school, if children going into secondary level are so illiterate, they can’t even write their own names, that is a problem for Tanzania.”
Missokia was in Washington, DC last month to talk about how local actors can and are using aid data to strengthen country systems and empower citizens. Oxfam America hosted her and three other African government and civil society leaders who spoke in congressional and USAID offices, addressing issues such as direct funding for local civil society groups and current legislation, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, which is intended to support greater aid transparency.
“Good data plays such a role in education,” explained Missokia. “How many schools? How many children need schooling? How do budgets compare with the need? How many are advancing from primary to secondary? Are there adequate numbers of teachers? When are books and materials arriving to schools? What are the attendance and retention rates of students and teachers? Which districts or areas are underperforming?
“Over 40% of Tanzania’s budget comes from foreign aid. That’s why, when education projects are funded by aid donors, there is a big advantage for civil society organizations (CSOs) to know exactly what donors fund and are implementing,” she says. “It’s for us as citizens and CSOs to be able to follow and hold government to account, and even each other. But how do we do that unless the donors also publish what they fund?”
Getting full information about education expenditures by the Tanzanian government is currently very complicated. When in DC, Missokia explained how responsibility for schooling was spread around various ministries and agencies. Local government authorities manage schools and hire teachers, but the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training is in charge of curriculum, for example. The Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare also have pieces to the puzzle.
“When you come to our offices during budget analysis time,” said Missokia, “you’ll see papers and binders everywhere!”
The analysis that HakiElimu provides as a third party, however, has been invaluable to parliamentary committees and to MPs.
“They depend on us to articulate what’s there,” explained Missokia. “If we can help members of parliament identify problems and report what citizens, teachers and children see as priorities, they become agents of change and voices for transparency.”
This may result in lots of work for HakiElimu staff when requests come in from MPs. But Missokia says it’s worth it, when after a marathon all-nighter last June for example, their questions were directly asked to the Ministry of Education.
“Political structures are there, but things just aren’t happening as they should,” says Missokia. “Not only does more having more accessible and useful aid data enhance our analyses at the national level, we’ve been able to use budget and project data to unlock funds from district offices. HakiElimu also works closely with donors such as the EU for example, to provide info that can help determine if programs are being received well at the community level and if corruption is occurring.
“Ultimately, we are looking for aid data from donors that will help us inform citizens about the money that is being given for their development, including performance data,” Missokia told a gathering of stakeholders of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network last month. But Missokia is concerned that the information on donors’ websites is not currently for Tanzanian citizens.
“How data is packaged matters. Data needs meaning for ordinary citizens so that they can be engaged with government,” says Missokia.
“Education is the entry point. What we really do is provide space for citizens to engage in democracy, because it’s not for donors or government or CSOs to bring development. It has to come from the people. And information is not power unless you can use it.”