Facing the Goliath of Corruption in Community Schools

  • September 18, 2017

Each community auditing training begins in prayer, then with a story already familiar to most of the participants.

“Who knows the story of David and Goliath?” asks Dolores Martinez, who coordinates AJS’s community engagement and auditing project. All twenty of the participants in plastic chairs arranged in a circle raise their hands.

We are fighting against such a big system that many of us feel like David,” says Dolores, after reading the passage from a well-worn Bible, “But we know that we have God on our side.”

What is a social audit? It’s when citizens come together to review official records and make sure that they reflect reality. If the government says it’s paying ten teachers in a community school, social auditors verify that ten teachers are actually there working, that they’re getting paid, and that they have the support that they need.

Participants in the training easily identify with David. They are all residents of one of the capital city’s most violent neighborhoods. Most are parents with children in the schools they have volunteered to audit; many of them report feeling minimized or ignored by school administration.

“Your children are not any less because they go to a public school,” Martinez tells the parents. What’s more, she tells parents that with the few small stones of advocacy, oversight, and accountability, they can bring down the giant of corruption that is limiting the public education system in Honduras.

Twenty volunteers, ranging in age from teens to great-grandmothers, gather in a cinderblock house that functions as an office for their neighborhood board. Many of them also participated in the “Hours in Class” audit, in which they visited their local public schools to document how many hours each day were dedicated to teaching children, and how much time was lost or wasted.

Before discussing their next audit, the group reflected on what had gone well in the last one. As toddlers run in circles, weaving in and out of the circle of chairs, their parents launch a lively discussion.

For the first time, we have permission to be in the classrooms,” notes Yovani Obando Troches, president of the neighborhood board.

Others recognize the commitment of some teachers to work towards improvement, the persistence of parents like themselves, and the change in attitude they saw in some schools when they realized that they were being observed.

Though some results were positive, the group also observed teachers that did not pay sufficient attention to their students, or shouted at them until they were terrified to go to school. One mother told about a daughter beaten with a ruler, another shared about her son smacked over the head with his own notebook.

Dolores Martinez listened, taking careful notes. In cases like this, she told them, “We have the right and the responsibility to intervene.”

It’s a responsibility that the participants take seriously. One mother said, “Now that this program exists, it gives us the authority to make reports.”

The purpose of these community audits is not just to lay blame. Parents admit that most teachers in public schools are good, and face many challenging students while receiving very little support. Volunteers emphasize the importance of being both analytic and realistic, of balancing observations with offers of support.

Thanks to the participation of groups like this one, issues of corruption, absenteeism, and abuse of power have been reported and addressed, and community schools are becoming safer and more effective.

“We’ll use the stones God has given us,” AJS leaders say as they hand each participant a packet of tools to carry out their audits, “Let’s go take on Goliath.”

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