Together with the World Bank we reviewed financial management processes in Myanmar’s education sector to help improve education quality.
Nick Travis, Manisha Marulasiddappa, Thet Aung Lynn, World Bank
The Government of Myanmar has identified the education sector as critical to both economic development and national unity. In pursuit of stronger and sustainable education systems, the Government has introduced multiple reforms under the framework of the National Education Sector Plan (NESP) and over the last eight years more than tripled education funding. While higher levels of funding are needed, the focus to date on how that money is being allocated and spent within the sector has been low.
In Myanmar, several challenges in education are closely related to financial management – yet the sector has so far mostly fallen outside the scope of the national public financing management reform agenda. This means that important financial challenges specific to the education sector have not been systematically identified and assessed.
Our study helps to bridge this gap by identifying systemic weaknesses or 'bottlenecks' within the Ministry of Education’s financial management system that impede service delivery and sets out recommendations for their resolution over the medium term.
The role of public financial management systems in the delivery of education and its impact on eventual learning outcomes remains an under-researched area, despite the claims that the way education budget is allocated and spent has an important impact on the quality of education provision.
Existing research carried out in Myanmar indicates that several challenges related to expenditure management have been impacting the quality of education – such as limited links between policy and budgets, resulting in sub-optimal resource allocation; paper-based systems of accounting, resulting in delayed reporting and expenditure analysis; and rigid procurement procedures, resulting in incomplete projects at the end of the financial year.
The objective of our study was to assess these, and any newly identified, weaknesses to determine the extent to which they directly impact the quality of service delivery, and to collaboratively design potential remedies for the Ministry of Education.
A major challenge for ‘debottlenecking’ studies is the lack of a globally recognised standard definition of what constitutes as barrier, especially in financial terms. As such, our approach began with developing a conceptual framework and typology for identifying and assessing these barriers and weaknesses. Our subsequent methodology involved detailed investigation at the national and regional levels through documentation review, data analysis, key informant interviews, and an electronic qualitative survey.
Our overall approach was underpinned by a concerted effort to triangulate evidence from officials operating across all levels of the system – from the national ministry on top, to separate schools at the end. We conducted over 100 individual meetings at the national, regional, and local levels over the course of this work.
This was followed by numerous workshops to verify and validate the identified barriers and to agree upon order of prioritisation for resolving them, as well as brainstorm possible solutions.
Our study has achieved considerable impact – it has been a catalyst for the subsequent development of a public financial management roadmap for the Ministry of Education. This roadmap sets out a positive and manageable action plan for resolving many of the financial weaknesses identified. This will enable the Ministry to build on the advancements it has achieved to date as it strives towards providing quality education for all the children in Myanmar.
More broadly, our research has generated an innovative methodology for analysing ‘financial bottlenecks’ that can be applied in other contexts and sectors to complement the existing (and expanding) set of public financial management diagnostic tools currently available.