Information technology (IT) is giving children and young people unprecedented opportunities to hold governments to account, and to engage in ensuring public services are run in their interest.
Plan International supports groups and organisations of young people to learn how best to monitor and provide feedback to governments and how to use IT to support them in their efforts.
Evidence shows that children and young people (and their organisations and groups) need to be information literate to engage collectively as active citizens and to participate effectively in public accountability mechanisms. They need to be able to access, analyse and use age-appropriate, child-friendly public information to generate the evidence they need to advocate for change.
To achieve this, public officials and national legislation need to support children and youth to access and use public information and promote freedom of information, open data and public transparency at different levels. They also need the capacity, willingness and incentives to support transparent processes, collect data and make information accessible.
Children and youth must also be willing and supported to understand the importance of public transparency, their right to access information, and to interpret and engage with public information to assert this right. They need to be supported to develop strong analytical, leadership and the critical thinking skills to effectively analyse and use public information for evidence-based advocacy.
Our focus at Plan International is to develop precisely this type of expertise in supporting children and youth to engage with social accountability approaches, particularly at the local government level. This includes engaging with community scorecards, budgeting and ICT monitoring tools. We support high-quality child and youth-led advocacy at all levels on issues that are relevant to them, such as access to public information and transparency, service quality improvements and Convention on the Rights of the Child monitoring. We are also developing expertise in supporting children and youth to access, analyse and use public information at community, district and national levels.
Case Study: Monitoring Teacher Absenteeism in Uganda
Enrolment for primary education in Uganda has grown significantly in recent years and the gender gap between girls and boys has reduced, so that almost equal numbers of girls and boys now attend primary school. But despite these successes, challenges still remain with the education system in Uganda, the quality of education provided being the biggest of these challenges.
Very often, children are going to school, but they are not learning, and one of the biggest factors contributing to this is the high rate of teacher absenteeism. According to data from education authorities, 20%-30% of teachers can be absent at any one time in each district, with one school reporting a teacher absence rate of 62%. This, in turn, leads to irregular pupil attendance – there are no consequences if they are absent as they are simply following the lead of their teachers. 27% of children in Uganda are not in school at any given time.
Following repeated complaints from members of the student councils of 105 schools partnering with Plan International Uganda in a broader programme strengthening the capacity of council members on child rights, participatory school management and governance, Plan International Uganda, together with Nokia, developed an SMS-based system to tackle the problem. Piloted in five schools in the Luwero district, this SMS system facilitates information getting to the management of schools in the area, bringing in consequences for teachers repeatedly truanting.
To test how student councils could become more effective in monitoring education services at school, Plan International worked with student councils from five schools on a pilot project introducing mobile phone reporting to monitor teacher and student attendance. Each school received two phones for this purpose – one for the girls and one for the boys represented in the executive committees who were not comfortable to share their phones between sexes – and gave them the possibility to send free SMS reports on their missing teachers to district education authorities. A website and connected database supported the system and data collection and analysis. During the pilot phase, costs for messages were recharged to Plan International Uganda with the help of a special toll-free code.
Once notified by SMS on the absenteeism of individual teachers, authorities contact the education staff in question, who then have to provide a reason for their absence. Monitoring absence levels in this way provides an incentive for them not to miss lessons.
Results of the scheme, which has now been running for two and a half years, show that it has greatly improved both pupil and teacher absence rates. Teacher absenteeism has been almost eliminated, and pupil absenteeism has drastically reduced by almost 80% in the schools included in the pilot. In turn, pupil performance has improved. Rev Besweri Mulyanti, headteacher of Kiziba Primary School, says: "There has been improved performance [since the scheme began]. We got seven first grades in both years."
The scheme has not only been used to successfully reduce teacher absence rates: text messaging technology is also used to inform parents of pupil absences, and to inform parents of meetings they need to attend and of important school messages. The project has helped to bridge the gap between school stakeholders – pupils, teachers, parents, and education officials – by setting up a hearing and listening platform. It has helped to monitor trends in pupil absenteeism, for example project partners learnt that a large proportion of absences in one school affected pupils living with single mothers. Now that this information is available, partners can consider how to address it.
Margaret Natseli from Plan International Uganda says: “Introducing the system was not without challenges. There were many questions, particularly from adults, whether children would be able to send messages and if there wouldn’t be misuse of the system. Some fear of misuse still exists, especially by teachers, and this needs to be given attention. We need to enable them to see the benefits of the system for the education system as a whole. Children, on the whole, have been very responsible in the use of the system and this reassures them.”
The great success overall of the scheme means Plan International and government authorities are working in partnership to look at scaling up the project to a broader level.