Parent-teacher associations and school boards might seem normal to many, but in some parts of the world, families don’t have the same voice in their children’s education.

MCC is working to change that. 

MCC is beginning to support school management committees (SMCs) in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Nepal, Cambodia and India. These committees help improve education quality, represent different people involved in schools, broaden decision-making power and improve accountability and ownership.

Students Brian Nyamwea (left) and Felistus Domnic laugh over a funny sentence during a peer editing session at Mukuru Mennonite Academy in Embakasi, Nairobi, Kenya. MCC partners with Embakasi Mennonite Church to help fund school salaries and a nutritious breakfast and lunch in this informal settlement on the edge of Nairobi. The MCC Kenya education coordinator works with teachers to develop child-centered learning, school management committees, and effective child protection.MCC photo/Jodi Mikalachki

Lynn Longenecker is MCC’s education coordinator and says these committees are a way MCC can support family involvement in local schools.

“School management committees are not a completely new idea, but it is new in a lot of these contexts where we’re working,” Longenecker says. “The parents typically see the school as a separate thing, especially if they don’t have much education themselves. In SMCs they can understand what’s going on in the school and have a voice.”

The rural education project through Sansthagat Bikas Sanjal (SBS) in Nepal, with two SMC’s, is one example. MCC has supported this project for eight years.

According to Bal Krishna Maharjan, the executive director of SBS, SMCs have been commonplace in Nepali schools for many years, but up until 2001, members were handpicked by bureaucrats or local politicians.

“There was little or no opportunity for actual parents or local community members to be represented on the committee,” he said.

Bal Krishna Maharjan talks with members of the SMC at Janajagriti Secondary School. Behind him sits Sanchita Thapa, who is a teacher, and Manu Thapa, who is a parent of two children attending the school. MCC photo/Lynn Longenecker

In 2001, the government made amendments to legislation to increase community involvement, but in many public schools, SMCs exist in name alone. Organizations like SBS provide training and support to help the committees play their role more effectively. From there, the SMC can better understand its role in improving the school; advocate at the district-level education office; help plan and monitor the school's five-year improvement plan and ensure this plan includes funding for teacher training and infrastructure improvements.   

Manu Thapa has two children that attend Janajagriti Higher Secondary School in Nepal’s Dhading district and just began sitting on the school’s SMC, one of the committees supported by SBS. She’s committed to making the school better.

“I’m newly elected on this committee, and by the time my term is over I want to feel like something has improved at this school, like something has changed. I want this school to be a model for other schools,” she says.  

“I come by and visit almost every day. If I see something wrong, I talk to the principal. I’m looking forward to learning a lot and working together to make this school even better.”

For MCC, the decision to begin promoting SMCs started in Zimbabwe. 

Students gather and study under a tree at Mupambe Secondary School in Zimbabwe. Mupambe Secondary School is one of seven schools in Matabeleland North Province supported by MCC and benefitting from a SMC. MCC photo/Matt Sawatzky

When parents and teachers at a school were concerned about the principal having too much authority to decide where the funds would go, MCC staff began encouraging schools receiving money from MCC to set up committees to decide how and where money should be spent.

It’s made a big difference, according to MCC’s education program officer in Zimbabwe, Tinodashe Gumbo. MCC is now supporting 12 schools with SMCs in the country. Participants include school administration, teachers, parents and community and religious leaders.

“They have created ownership of the schools by the community and have created transparency in the management of funds as community members are part of the planning, monitoring and evaluation process of the MCC grant given to the school,” Gumbo says.

The support from parents made it easier for administrators to run the schools and helped mobilize the community for school development projects.

“SMCs are now taking a lead in mobilizing the community to pay school fees, provide locally available material for construction projects and repairs and work as an advocacy group against child abuse cases in the area,” he adds.

According to Longenecker, SMCs helps put the power back in the hands of locals. 

“In some communities, education may seem like it’s rooted in colonialism. So, empowering parents and community leaders to participate in school management committees where they can impact significant decisions about their schools is actually a radical and powerful shift. In the best case they help parents see and shape the school as ‘our school for our children,’ rather than an outside institution that's foreign to them,” he explains.

MCC will continue supporting SMCs as part of its partnership approach to development which emphasizes community participation and relationships.

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