Accountability refers to processes or mechanisms whereby the performance of tasks or functions carried out by an individual or institution are subject to oversight or scrutiny by appropriate authorities and relevant stakeholders. Accountability has two elements: answerability and enforcement. Answerability refers to the obligation of the government, its agencies and public officials to provide information about their decisions and actions and to justify them to the public and those institutions of accountability tasked with providing oversight. Enforcement on the other hand refers to the ability of the public or the institution responsible for accountability to impose sanctions on the offending party (individual or institution).
Accountability ensures that educational institutions are complying with the established rules and regulations and that their work is being subjected to the oversight authority and/or public scrutiny. It ensures that those who have roles in different aspects of education are answerable to their actions and results. Public education is a major investment of financial and human resources and no country can afford to have a system which is not accountable. Aaccountability mechanisms provide the evidence that the institution is meeting its expected goals or objectives of providing quality learning. A sound accountability system also defines channels to inform the public about education quality at every level, the progress of learners, the policies under consideration, etc.
Accountability systems are typically classified into three categories. First, upward accountability refers to the processes and mechanisms whereby education providers or institutions are answerable to those above them in the education hierarchy. Second, downward accountability is the obligation that the provider or the institution has to the learners. Third, outward accountability refers to being responsible to the wider community and public at large.
One key aspect of accountability is financial accountability, which can refer to processes and mechanisms that are designed to ensure that the funds are distributed equitably, reach the intended users or beneficiaries and are used properly according to the budget. The lack of financial accountability leads to leakage, mismanagement of resources and inefficient use and it will ultimately affect quality learning. The Public Expenditure Tracking in Survey (PETS) is widely used to study the flow of funds and other resources with the aim of determining how much of government investment reaches the classroom. One example from Uganda suggests that PETS results can make an impact on system improvement provided there is strong government commitment.
Transparency is an important tool of accountability. When institutional operations are not transparent, it can increase transaction costs, reduce the efficiency of public services, distort the decision-making process and undermine social values. A transparent system promotes integrity and ethical behavior on the part of officials, which will improve the functioning of the education system. The presence of transparency enables the public to be informed of the results of its certain actions.