Making Communities Support Education: Learning from Nigeria

SBMCs aim to improve learning by strengthening community support for education, but they won’t succeed in this aim if they are implemented in a top-down fashion, not truly rooted in the local context and local needs.


Establishing School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs) is one of the most widely adopted interventions aimed at addressing the learning crisis faced in many developing countries. Giving parents and communities a certain degree of control over aspects of school management is assumed to improve school performance. Yet, in most cases, these SBMCs fail to mobilise communities on sustainable basis. This failure becomes more pronounced in the face of evidence that often the same communities support non-state schools on ongoing basis. Two RISE studies (Curricula that Respond to Local Needs: Analysing Community Support for Islamic and Quranic Schools in Northern Nigeria and International Push for SBMCs and the Problem of Isomorphic Mimicry: Evidence from Nigeria) look at this challenge by recording SBMCs’ failure to mobilise communities on long term basis in the state of Kano, northern Nigeria, despite there being a rich tradition of supporting Islamic and Quranic schools within the same communities. The two studies identify two main challenges to current development thinking on education and community participation.

1. The problem of isomorphic mimicry

The investment made by many developing countries in establishing SBMCs in state schools is largely a response to external pressure and a product of isomorphic mimicry, a term used in the international development literature to refer to the process whereby states in developing countries attempt to mimic good behaviour through adopting policies with the view to gain international legitimacy while avoiding to undertake more serious reforms.  

Nigeria adopted a national policy to establish SBMCs in state schools in 2005. Despite limited evidence of success, promotion of this policy remains a priority, because this policy which is aimed at promoting bottom-up approaches to identifying and designing education policies is itself entirely a product of top-down policy making, envisioned, developed, and funded almost entirely by the international development community. Adoption of this policy enables the state to mimic commitment to education reforms and win endorsement of international community without fixing the underlying political economy challenges that cripple the education sector performance. Such top-down measures also have additional costs in terms of wasted opportunities: they prevent state agencies from identifying local opportunities for delivering the same goals more effectively and perhaps at a lower cost.

2. Communities need more autonomy

Examining the basis of active community support for Islamic and Quranic schools in the state of Kano helps identify the importance of making school curricula responsive to local value systems and economic opportunities to develop community ownership of schools. The paper shows that in rural communities or those in less-developed urban centres, state school curriculum that promotes a concept of good life that is strongly associated with formal-sector employment and urban living becomes a cause of concern. There is need to consider production of localised curricula and to adjust the concept of a good life to local contexts, economic opportunities, and local value systems as opposed to adopting a standardised national curriculum which promotes aspirations that are out of reach.

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