Feedback Loops and Information Flows

One of the most critical factors in improving the quality of educational services is the oft-misunderstood and critically misinterpreted area of community engagement. This community engagement, seen as both the panacea for numerous developmental issues, and a seriously inhibiting factor must be, as so much of human development, understood inside the realm of individualized contexts. However, there are universal factors which effect this critical engagement. The most important of these comes with information flows and feedback loops.

Feedback, or responsiveness, recently cited by Dennis Whittle, has been overlooked in the realm of development for much too long, especially in the realm of educational development. Why, Whittle asks, aren't citizens involved with providing service feedback for development projects? Why, I ask, has this not been extended to educational development projects?

Traditionally granted in the form of report cards in the rich world, parents have been able to gauge the success of their children in the classroom; however, a new phase of report cards has begun over the last five years in many countries, with the issuance of "School Report Cards," methods in which information about local schooling, monetary disbursements, and relative educational performance is given to community members. Other examples of school reporting, which has proven to improve the information gap between educational service providers and recipients/communities, includes the use of information technology (a critical area where mobile phones can be effective in improving education).

Whether the method of delivery is traditional, sealed envelopes, or vis-a-vis information technology and mobile phones, the premise of improvements in expectations is the critical factor to be discussed. Most parents in both the developing and developed world have no relative information about what to expect from their local government school; combine this fact with the isolated geography and limited infrastructure of many poor countries, and the issue is laid clear: parents have no idea what kind of schooling their kids should be getting, whether it is "normal" to have 30% teacher absences and extended school holidays, and how much government funding is being delivered to their locales (another fascinating aspect is improved transparency). Closing the feedback loop, delivering information flows to recipient communities, and thus, closing the community feedback loop, is an essential aspect of enhancing the demands for a quaility education.