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A Technology for Education leap forward: Sometimes you just need an empowered committee!

  • May 17, 2021
By George Mogga Benjamin and Charlie Goldsmith


As Earth’s orbit is littered, after 50 years of innovation, with zombified space junk, so the internet has its share of the abandoned wrecks of well-meaning public digital innovation continuing to circle fruitlessly, lacking updates or readers. One exception is South Sudan’s Schools Attendance Monitoring System (SAMS), which you can see, in its eighth year of full national operation, at SAMS is used for school pupil enrolment and attendance monitoring; the data it generates forms the basis on which school grants, cash transfers and teacher incentives are paid out. It’s a good piece of tech4dev, and we’re proud of it.

Since SAMS’ creation, the most cutting-edge digital innovation that has kept it well-used and impactful is, er, a monthly meeting. Let us explain why.

South Sudan has only existed as an independent state since 2011, and has suffered renewed conflict since 2013. Most of its civil service structures and processes are very new. Even with a rapid scale up in the 2006-2011 “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” period, many Ministries still only have a full complement of technical staff at the top few grades, but are a bit thin at middle and junior official levels, and on drafting/handle-turning. The splitting of South Sudan’s 10 States and 79 Counties into 32+1 and more than 200 Counties in 2015 spread subnational capacity thinly — and it has yet to be reaggregated as that is unwound in 2020. As the currency, and their wages, fell, some officials moved to NGO jobs that paid better.

Yet, being able to transact and record large amounts of business efficiently, and have senior management oversight of core processes is crucial to government functioning. To do that, in some cases technical advisers like ODI Fellows in the Ministry of Finance were used for the “secretariat” role for various key committees, “turning the handle” while senior officials chaired and led. At subnational level, a system of “State Anchor” NGOs and clusters has complemented, and at times made up for, subnational government systems.

One of those committees, the Ministry of General Education and Instruction’s Education Transfers Monitoring Committee, which was modelled on the cross-government State Transfers Monitoring Committee set up in 2010, met for the first time in January 2014. The circumstances the immediate aftermath of the December 2013 upheaval in Juba and the outbreak of conflict that followed were not promising.

The ETMC has now had more than 90 formal monthly meetings, despite further periods of civil commotion (notably in July 2016), the rapid loss of value of the South Sudan Pound, and times when almost no funds were coming out of the Government of South Sudan to schools. About one third of the population has been displaced, within and beyond the country’s borders.

Remarkably, in that time:

  • Registered school enrolment on has gone from 928,000 in 2014, to a record 2.7 million enrolled in 2020 (before schools were closed by COVID).
  • Well over 4000 schools are now compliant with enrolment, attendance and financial reporting through the new system.
  • By the end of this year, the Committee will have processed over 23,000 school grant tranches and one and a half million cash transfers.


Resilience, knowledge, inclusiveness

What was it that enabled this public sector innovation to sustain itself, make itself useful, and get value out of the considerable volumes of data coming in through the system?  We suggest five points:

1. Resilience from combined government and partner project status

Because the committee was a standing government committee, like all other government committees, it was able to continue working even when donor and some project staff were withdrawn during conflict in 2014 and 2016. Because it had oversight of government-aligned project funds, it also had a continuing material reason to meet even when government was short of cash.  Being relevant doesn’t guarantee sustainability, but becoming irrelevant is a good way to make sure your innovation dies early.

2. Knowledge: MoGEI staff the experts on their own data 

The majority of the policy staff involved have been around since the start of the process. This shows the great commitment and determination of education officials who have seen their wages fall to as little as $10 a month. As a result, the same core group of 15-20 policy staff have been looking at the same metrics, month-in, month-out for 7 years. They understand those metrics and their limitations quite well. And they have an exceptional depth of implicit knowledge about those metrics, disaggregated over time and by geography, and about the evidence for what levers will work on them. Presenting and discussing the data from the website each month meant periodic connectivity problems couldn’t undermine the usefulness of the system and data.

Put simply: the experts on the Ministry’s data are the Ministry’s own officials, and the longer the story goes on, the more expert they are.

3. Inclusivity

Every department in MoGEI was represented on ETMC, every donor and international organisation was invited to observe, alternates were welcome, and there was a broadly open-door policy.

Agenda efficiency was allowed to give some way to communication and inclusion: e.g. one memorable discussion about biometrics for teachers, and why this reduced the risk of dead teachers being paid: the older official who asked the question was given time and space to ask it, and to get it answered.  Officials who had personal reports to offer from their villages or communities were able to raise them, and hold seniors, projects, and the process accountable.

4. A sustainable Secretariat function

For the first four years of its existence, Charlie’s consultant team provided the Secretariat. From 2018, MoGEI juniors, of whom there were by then enough, took over this role. The unusually long lead time the five and a half year DFID-funded Girls’ Education South Sudan project gave (compared to more normal three or four year projects) was what enabled that. We don’t know, but we think if the lead time had been shorter, the transition would have been riskier, because the processes and habits of the committee would have less well established.

5. Adaptivity

Before SAMS and the ETMC, management data had mainly come from an annual survey the results of which were only available after the academic year had ended. The new system meant near-real-time data, which meant the Ministry could project overall enrolment within 2 months of the start of term.


Much is said and written about the technology of digitisation, less about the people and behaviours that govern how it’s used. We think the Education Transfers Monitoring Committee’s success was a result of it being sufficiently detailed to be meaningful, bringing enough stakeholders together to be able to move ahead, and being sufficiently broad in scope to be relevant in most circumstances.

We think this model of persistent focus on decent and consistent core indicators, regular review and adaptive follow-up has a lot to be said for it. It may be a slightly 19th century innovation, but it gets a lot of value out of 21st century digital, even, or perhaps especially, when the circumstances are a bit challenging.

The proof of this is in the Ministry’s commitment to go further in reach, quality and depth including potentially in the direction of unique pupil IDs for social protection: this is what they say: “We are committed to further improve the entire data system in the country with particular focus to making the data easily accessible, comprehensive in terms of coverage, flexible in terms of compatibility and viable in terms of quality. We will continue to work with our partners not only to enable us to access funding but more importantly to seize the opportunities to learn global best practices.”


George Mogga is Director General Planning and Budgeting, Ministry of General Education and Instruction, Government of the Republic of South Sudan, and Chair of the Education Transfers Monitoring Committee.

Charlie Goldsmith is MD of CGA Technologies, which uses technology to support improved public sector service delivery in developing and fragile contexts. CGA Technologies is part of the Corus International family of organisations, led by Lutheran World Relief-IMA World Health.

The authors express their thanks to MoGEI colleagues, and to the various funders whose work has contributed to the establishment and continued operation of the Education Transfers Monitoring Committee, including DFID, EU, UNICEF and Global Affairs Canada; the views expressed remain their own.




elizabethmayer, May 17, 2021 email