Basic education: no ‘bang for buck’

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pravin gordhan july 24 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The state spends almost 80 percent of the total Basic Education budget on compensation for employees such as teachers, but it’s not getting “bang for its buck”, according to experts.

In a written parliamentary reply, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said that for the education function, “excluding the Higher Education and Training sector”, 78 percent of the total budget, or R122.2 billion of a total expenditure of R156.5bn, was spent on compensation for employees in 2011/12.

He was responding to a question from DA MP in the National Council of Provinces Denis Joseph.

Joseph also asked whether the cost for personnel was benchmarked against international standards.

Economist Mike Schussler said the spending could be justified because a sector like education was labour intensive, but the government was definitely not getting its money’s worth.

“We’re definitely not getting bang for buck. We haven’t for many years, even during apartheid, which messed up our black children.

“The quality we have is not up to scratch when compared on an international scale. It’s very low. I’m surprised countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya don’t fare worse than us, but outperform us,” said Schussler.

He said that with the amount of money available for education in SA, the country should be outperforming poorer African countries.

“Why we’re on par or even worse than poorer countries is because we’re not getting bang for our buck. It is because of either bad management or bad implementation,” he said.

Education analyst Graeme Bloch said, however, that if the government wanted the basic education sector to improve, it would have to spend even more on teachers and personnel.

“Teachers generally don’t get a good deal and don’t get support in the classroom. But the figure has come down slightly. Part of the reason the figure is so high is because white teachers used to earn more during apartheid and then everything was equalised. There was no way to avoid that.

“Teachers have also improved their qualifications over the years, but they just don’t know how to teach,” said Bloch.

Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said the salary bill was normal when compared to other countries. “That total includes everything, cash and benefits. If you look at the comparisons provided, South Africa is slightly higher than Hungary. It’s normal for education if you look at worldwide statistics,” said Sikhakhane.

Gordhan said the government did not benchmark its spending allocations against patterns in other countries because there was no international standard for the management of personnel costs given that the structure of public and private provision of services varied considerably across different countries.

Another sector that spent more than half its budgets on employees was public health, which spent 60 percent of its budget on compensation of personnel, or R60bn of a total expenditure of R113.8bn, said Gordhan.

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