What impact can community-based information campaigns have on school performance? This article from Education Economics finds that providing information through a structured campaign has a positive impact on school outcomes. A cluster randomised control trial of 610 villages across three Indian states provided public meetings about community roles and responsibilities in school management. A survey between two and four months later identified positive impacts on process variables such as community participation, provision of student entitlements and teacher effort. Impacts on learning were modest, however, and there were differences between states. Impacts need to be measured over a longer time period.
Learning outcomes have gained increasing importance in the policy debate on education in developing countries. This is especially so for countries such as India where much has been achieved in terms of access, but learning outcomes are low. Targeting resources to communities efficiently and getting public workers to perform their tasks have remained a challenge for several public services in developing countries. Providing information that empowers stakeholders may be one way to stimulate public demand for quality services.
The information campaign in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Uttar Pradesh (UP) consisted of public meetings in 340 villages. The follow-up survey found that:
- Gains in community participation were larger in UP than in the other two states. These differences may be due to differences in the structure and oversight of institutions created by decentralisation, and the time between intervention and follow-up survey.
- The provision of cash stipends and uniforms improved in MP and UP, and the quality of midday meals improved in Karnataka. Oversight committees in all thee states were responsible for overseeing delivery of entitlements. Impact in MP and UP varied by student caste.
- In MP there was a positive impact on teachers’ engagement in teaching and in UP the impact was on teachers’ attendance. No impact was observed in Karnataka, where baseline outcomes were higher.
- Gains in learning outcomes were few and modest. These are unlikely to be influenced in a short time and may require more sustained intervention.
Providing information through a structured campaign to communities about their oversight roles in schools could be an effective policy tool to improve school outcomes. But this study shows that impact varies and more research is needed.
- Differences across states are not surprising. The states had different starting points (baseline outcomes were higher in Karnataka). The institutions created by decentralisation also differ across states in structure, roles and responsibilities.
- Decentralisation to communities is meaningless unless communities know what oversight they have. Providing information to communities that are unaware of their role can be useful in changing behaviour.
- Strengths of this study include using a structured intervention that is easily replicable and a rigorous randomised controlled trial. But findings are limited because outcomes were measured soon after intervention.
- More research is needed involving replicable information dissemination, objective outcome measurement and follow-up over longer periods.