Article written

  • on 09.11.2015
  • at 01:56 PM
  • by Kimberley Evans

Fixing Basic Education: It’s about more than money 0

The recent #FeesMustFall student protests have thrust government’s funding of education into the spotlight. The President’s agreement to a 0% university fee increase for 2016 has left the Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, searching for an extra R2.7bn to make up the shortfall, and the Democratic Alliance (DA) has led the charge in offering him numerous good suggestions. But we can’t talk about solving the higher education crisis without, also, looking at basic education, because this is most often where the pathway to opportunity ends for many young South Africans.

Depending on which reports you read, South Africa ranks anywhere from “towards the lower end” to “the very bottom”, when it comes to the level of our basic education. Slightly more 70% of our children who should be in Grade 6 are literate. And when you look at numeracy, that number drops to 58%. In last year’s Annual National Assessments, less than half of Grade 9 learners scored more than 50% for home language literacy.

Unlike the higher education crisis, this is not a problem we can solve by simply throwing more money at it. Make no mistake, money is part of the issue. The roll-out of infrastructure, such as classrooms, electricity, and toilets at hundreds of rural schools still lags far behind their urban counterparts. All of this costs money. As do school feeding programmes, learner transport and textbooks. There will always be the need for a bigger budget.

But South Africa already spends around 20% of our total state expenditure – or 7% of our GDP – on basic education. This year, that amounted to more than R200 billion of the Budget. We spend more on basic education than we do on any other government function. And we spend more per child, than just about every country in Africa. So, what are we getting for our money? Unfortunately the answer is: Not an awful lot. We spend more than three times as much as a country like Kenya per child, yet the quality of our basic education lags behind theirs.

Every year, come matric results time, government finds all sorts of positives to crow about. But when you stop cherry-picking the points you want to flaunt, and consider the full story, the results paint a very bleak picture. For starters, the matric pass-rate only considers those children who sat for the exam. More than half the learners who had enrolled in Grade 1, 12 years earlier, would not have made it as far as the final exams. In 2014 there was much said about achieving a 76% matric pass rate. But that 76% only represented 37% of the children in that age cohort who started Grade 1, in 2003. And when you look at university exemption, this number goes down to just 14%.

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by Mmusi Maimane

Photo Credits Stefan Heunis/Stringer/Getty Images

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