Engaging citizens as a means to improve education: the experience of public hearings in Moldova
Over the years, the education sector in Moldova has witnessed uneven quality and a lack of efficiency. In 2011 the Government of Moldova initiated a difficult but vital reform program aimed to improve the quality and efficiency of the education sector.
“Scoala Mea” initiative comes to support the education reform. The project’s mission is to involve citizens, together with authorities in creating efficient, transparent and better schools. It was launched in 2014, by the Independent Think-Tank Expert-Grup and its regional partners, with the support of the World Bank Group within the Global Partnership for Social Accountability, with the informational support of the Ministry of Education of Moldova. One of the means “Scoala Mea” initiative considers for bringing together citizens and schools is by organizing public hearings.
The idea of public hearings on schools budget has been met with resistance by schools management in Moldova. The number of schools interested in implementing such events – about 50 per year, out of 1307– proves that. However, after more than 40 schools discussed their budgets publicly since the start of the GPSA education project in 2014, we have evidence that community involvement can bring benefits to the school.
Over the past two years, the project team has organized public hearings at the 40 beneficiary schools, where over 5000 citizens – students, teachers, parents and representatives of local and regional authorities – participated. During the public hearings, school principals presented to the community the progress in implementing educational reform in the institution, budget expenditures in recent years and the draft budgets for the next year. Citizens participating at the hearings were able to make collective decisions on schools’ issues and development priorities that will benefit students.
“Scoala Mea” has been systematizing the process and outcomes of the public hearings implemented so far. There were hundreds of proposals submitted and dozens of decisions made as a result of the public hearings: for example, at the high school in the village of Magdacesti, following requests from citizens, the representative of the District Council who attended the event has decided to allocate funds for roof repairs. At “Onisifor Ghibu” high-school from the city of Orhei, at pupils’ proposal, it has been decided to extend the meal breaks, in order to allow students to take a more consistent lunch. At the public hearing in the “Vasile Alecsandri” high-school in Ungheni, citizens opted for establishing an Eco Park in front of the school, but also to set up a separate class for technological education.
Interim Deputy Minister of Education – Nadia Cristea, who attended the public hearings at the “Onisifor Ghibu” high-school in the capital Chisinau, stressed the importance of public hearings: “This event serves as further evidence about the need for public discussions. The fact that there is a large number of parents being present at this event is welcoming and encouraging”, said the interim Deputy Minister.
The benefits of “Scoala Mea” are becoming even bolder at the institutions that began its implementation last year. At “Alecu Russo” high-school in the village of Sangereii Noi, after parents made a series of proposals to the school administration at last year’s public hearings, related to students’ transportation, toilet facilities, water supply and school furniture, the new school principal, appointed in 2015, has taken these proposals into consideration and implemented them. At “Liviu Damian” lyceum in Rascani district, at the public hearing in 2014, the Head of the Education directorate encouraged participants to come with proposals for school problem solving. Toilets inside the school came as a top priority after public hearing discussions, and after submitting the request, in 2015 school benefited of support from the District Council, and toilets were built in the school. Most schools in the rural area in Moldova have only outdoor toilets.
Cooperation with the local, regional, and central government has been beneficial since the project started. Currently, the initiative is supported by District Councils in 13 districts out of 32 in the country and by 3 municipalities (Chisinau, Balti, and Comrat). Local and regional authorities signed memoranda to show their support for social accountability activities. We have also signed a memoranda with the central government at the end of 2015. That will ensure accountability of implementation of key reforms, such as the Regulation on School Administration Boards, approved by the Ministry of Education in February 2015, which mandates that all schools must organize annual open budget hearings. What started in 20 schools, as a result of GPSA, has now been transformed into national-level policy.
Public hearings lay the foundation for a social accountability process in education. It is for the first time that students and parents, together with public authorities, businesses and civil society organizations are coming together to identify, raise and solve the schools’ issues. It is also important to note that by now 11 non-beneficiary schools have expressed an intention to hold public hearings independently of “Scoala Mea.” By continuing to implement the project, we hope that the vast majority of schools in the country will become more open and learn to demand and create better services in education.