One of the principles of effective aid delivery in fragile states is to focus on state building as a central objective, including improving governance and capacity in core service delivery functions. As one of the most visible and far-reaching services that states provide, education is a prime area for state building and improving the legitimacy of the state. But in the education sector this is challenging for several reasons, one of which is the weakened accountability of schools to the state as well as to the communities they serve, because government officials lack the capacity to monitor the system and offer adequate support to schools where needed. In the DR Congo, VVOB is working at the national, provincial and school level to improve the delivery of secondary agricultural technical education and to rebuild state – school – community relations in the process. This article highlights four principles for working in education in fragile states that VVOB has been able to develop from this experience.
Build on what is there
In 2009, when VVOB started working in agricultural technical education in the DR Congo, one of the first milestones accomplished was the formulation of a strategy for the development of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) together with UNESCO, the Belgian Development Agency (BTC) and the Association for the Promotion of Education and Training Abroad (Association pour la Promotion de l'Education et de la Formation à l'Etranger, APEFE). This soon proved a mitigated success: only part of the strategy was taken up by the government in its own five-year TVET strategy. VVOB changed its approach and decided to support the then Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and TVET (Ministère de l’Enseignement Primaire, Secondaire et Professionnel) in the implementation of its strategy. We learned to adjust the government’s framework incrementally rather than wholesale.
In fragile contexts, policy implementation is more urgent than perfect policy papers, so moving beyond policy advice quickly is key.
Build capacity for policy implementation
To improve confidence in the state, government officials need to be visible on the ground and they need to be seen playing a constructive role in change processes. In fragile contexts, they need technical assistance and capacity development support to do so. In the DR Congo, for instance, VVOB is strengthening the capacity of the provincial education inspection (Inspection Principale Provinciale) so that it can take the lead in enhancing the quality of education. One of the discrete institutional barriers to this process is the tendency of the education inspectors to adopt an attitude of policing-punishing rather than support-supervision vis-à-vis school leaders and teachers. As a result, these government officials encounter much difficulty in truly monitoring the system. VVOB is implementing a pilot project to address this issue in three educational provinces.
Mediate local dialogue
Opting for incremental change, VVOB has first built the capacity of schools to self-assess the quality of their service delivery in a number of critical areas and to set out their own improvement trajectories under the supervision of the provincial education inspection. The pilot project involves not only the inspection, but also school leaders, teachers, parents and students in monitoring progress. VVOB helps to facilitate and mediate a local dialogue about problems and solutions, thus acting as a role model for the inspection, who should independently take on this role at a later date. VVOB’s intervention logic explicitly foresees an evolution from more “hands on” expert advice to more “hands off” process facilitation, coaching and mentoring. This evolution is monitored throughout the project cycle and is part of annual reporting.
When working in fragile contexts, it is necessary to stay adaptive and flexible while keeping an eye on the results. Contexts can change rapidly and often in unforeseen ways and VVOB has learned to adapt its interventions to emerging opportunities and obstacles. To complement its work at the provincial and local level, VVOB also operates at the national level in the DR Congo. This has several advantages. VVOB provides training to the National Training Service (Service National de Formation, SERNAFOR) so that its staff can, in turn, support the provincial education inspectors that serve under its authority. By engaging public officials at the three levels on the same issues – for example, gender-responsive pedagogy in agricultural technical education – VVOB can identify rising champions and looming sources of resistance to change within the system. This puts us in a good position to adapt our approach accordingly.
VVOB is ready
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of education service delivery in building citizens’ trust in their government. In fragile contexts governments need sustained, flexible capacity development support to be able to deliver. State building will require incremental, adaptive solutions. Having established the core principles for our interventions in fragile contexts, VVOB is ready to offer such support.