Limited amounts of research have been completed looking into the effects of village (or community) based education interventions in weak states.
Here in Afghanistan, I have been working on the launch and first-year implementation of a large community-based education program (CBE) for the UK-government (2013-2014). Community-based education involves NGO's and the government supporting the establishment of village schools, in which teachers are supported and materials are provided, but the community donates the space, identifies the teacher, and is responsible for community-monitoring of educational activities. Thus, the key challenge facing girls in conflict zones is addressed: the distance to formalized education, and the security risks that this poses for the females, their families, and broader communities. The questions remain: is CBE-education a viable alternative for government provision, and do the benefits to the children and communities outweigh the costs of relative-unsustainability and project-cycle reliance? Are we simply looking at education as a “quick fix” through these interventions?
Community-based education has a relatively long history of mixed success in the developing world, first coming across my radar screen through a World Bank report from Mali, assessing the effectiveness of a CBE program implemented to combat extremely low enrollment rates, a result of an extremely weak state, and to “reduce the opportunity cost, in particular by lowering the repetition and dropout rates” (World Bank 1999). Also addressed were the high costs involved with public-provision, and how these CBE structures were much more cost-effective in providing education in rural areas.
In "The Effect of Village-Based Schools: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial in Afghanistan," Burde and Linden (2012) analyzed the impacts of community schools in a specific geographic region of the country (one that does reflect a selection bias, however, and is not indicative of the broader community engagement in the country, but a necessary selection bias, due to instability in much of the country). The authors analyzed 31 villages where NGO-supported community schools were being implemented, and were able to show that the program “significantly increase(d) enrollment and test scores among all children, eliminate(d) the 21 percentage point gender disparity in enrollment, and dramatically reduce(d) the disparity in test scores.” Additionally, “While all students benefit, the effects accrue disproportionately to girls (1).” While the issues of reaching marginalized girls and children are critical to addressing the issues that remain in educational provision in 2014, the data in this case is fundamentally flawed, as it draws on a baseline comparison of existing educational provision in these areas, which, as we can expect, was zero prior to establishment of the CBE classes.
However, critical issues such as opportunity costs to families, improving educational supply for the most marginalized (rural, female) in weak states, community engagement and oversight of educational provision, parental incentivization for sending females to school and overall gender equality are addressed by these schooling interventions. In specific relation to CBE schooling, supply increases will decrease opportunity costs in rural agrarian communities, and decrease security risks to females; engagement increases through direct community oversight and NGO delegation of monitoring through community mobilization; parents are incentivized to send their daughters to school due to an increased immediate exposure and increased awareness of the returns to education; and females will be additionally disproportionately benefitted due to their high sensitivity to security risks, which are directly correlated to school distance.
Thus, the question remains: is operating outside of governmental provisionary structures a valid way of improving the educational systems in weak states, or is the impact on the students, through short-term project-based interventions, enough to lend validity to these activities? There has been no direct study completed comparing teaching quality in these CBE schools to formal schools (and this would be normally impossible, in comparing the teacher qualifications found in rural areas to those mandated by states in more urban, catchment areas). However, a qualitative study, assessing community support, mentoring, and in-classroom activities would be a valuable addition to this research area. How are these teachers being incentivized to implement child-centered activities? How does there generalized lack of teaching background impact their ability to “change” to newer teaching techniques, as being provided by related NGO’s? Does this represent a “clean slate,” a necessary precondition for true change from the impossibly ineffective systems that so dominate the classrooms in the developing world? And finally, how are community dynamics different in CBE structures than in community engagement with formalized schooling? Additionally, and somewhat un-related, what is the feasibility for the implementation of CBE schools in refugee camp environments? Is this structure the best and most responsive mechanism for ensuring at least a basic level of educational provision in these specific circumstances?