In recent years, the Royal Government of Cambodia has been steadily increasing budget investment for Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS). However, the details of how the budget was determined were unknown amongst most civil society actors. This was partly due to the budget not being released in electronic form, or in an easily understandable format.
As only raw figures were available, there was no breakdown of spend and weak capacity to conduct budget advocacy and advocate for increased allocation to key services or for particular excluded groups. Teachers and principals languished with the limited understanding of the gaps impacting on their schools.
In 2016, with support from NORAD, research (with Save the Children, partners and the Ministries of Education Youth and Sport, Ministry of Economic and Finance and National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development Secretariat (NCDDS)), into the budget revealed that spend was calculated based on numbers of children across the country rather than gender, needs or geographic area. The research was able to reveal gaps in understanding across sectors, including amongst teachers and communities, highlighting that children in different geographic areas needed more to be done.
Following on from the research, Save the Children in collaboration with NGO partners conducted an equity budget analysis workshop. During and after this exercise, participants (and particularly those involved in a budget-working group) developed a budget database and joint policy brief on education budget analysis. The database has a specific focus on the education sector with further details on enrollment by gender and dropout rates; and is correlated with learning outcomes.
The findings of the research (policy brief) allowed 25 networks and NGOs to endorse a statement of recommendations, which was communicated to the Ministries of Education, Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF), the National Assembly and the Senate. Unicef and World Vision supported this through their strong existing connections with government. Moreover, Save the Children were able to take a technical lead in the process due to support from colleagues in Denmark.
This work was further supported by signing up to the Global Campaign for Education (focused primarily on education financing). With support from the Global Campaign for Education, partners were able to come together and ask Government for increased budgets in education. Connections to the Global Campaign also gave partners insights into previous supportive statements that the Government had made in global fora, allowing them to build on this support.
Following the research and statement of recommendations representatives from the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport requested meetings to discuss individual recommendations and conclude what was possible at the time. Save the Children and partners supported potential changes and agreed to build awareness within parliament.
Facilitating dialogue with children
To further support the initiative, Save the Children (through local partners) facilitated dialogue between children and parliamentarians to discuss opportunities for an increased education budget. This campaigning was timed to coincide with the budget cycle process, in particular aimed at increasing awareness of any potential changes in a draft 2018 budget. Within this framework of messaging, child advocates chose to discuss a number of issues related to education that could be improved with amendments to the budget.
One of the results of this series of advocacy activities has been a successful announcement from the government that the education budget would increase up to USD60 million for the 2018 school year. This increase would focus on improving education quality across schools. After a discussion with the parliament, the national budget law was approved and endorsed by the King with 2.4 percent increase for education – from USD610 million in 2017 to USD848 million.
This is an example of recent joint Child Rights Governance/Education advocacy work in Cambodia showing a prevalence of positive results with increases on education budgets, representing a positive move towards more transparent budgets overall.
Positive impact on learning outcomes to be expected
Save the Children believes that the analysis and findings of the budget exercise will definitely impact learning outcomes, but evidence collected in the coming years will be able to support this. At present, the analysis and findings are already enabling us to make better connections between national budget allocation and work that is being conducted at local levels to advocate for increased budgets in schools.
Budget transparency path ways for more positive implications
This budget transparency has further positive implications:
- The NGO budget-working group are now able to assess the breakdown of regional budget allocation across all Cambodian provinces and identify correlations between allocation and learning outcomes.
- The working group also have the potential to assess allocation against political commitments, and compare and contrast performance across regions. However, there is more work needed to strengthen monitoring capacity and ensure the Government reports regularly.
- Save the Children can build on this work to better understand the capacity of school principals in budgeting, along with the involvement of children in child-led accountability in campaigning.
- There are now more publically available budget documents compared to 2016. The budget transparency score has significantly improved.
The positive potential impact on children will only improve as we put a commitment in place for new changed policies. This will address issues such as exclusion in schools. The new policy if implemented has the potential to target budgets towards specific geographies where learning outcomes are weaker – including dramatic changes to existing policy to focus on excluded groups.