Improving Botswana’s progress towards universal primary education
Botswana signed up to the goal of universal primary education (UPE) in 1980. Facilities have improved, many more teachers have been recruited and enrolment rates have risen dramatically but many argue that the introduction of UPE has led to low quality education. The quality of public education remains low in those poor and remote rural districts with stubbornly high drop-out and repetition rates.
A report from the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis examines how primary education is funded in this southern African state. The study suggests that increased public expenditure on primary education may have achieved the enrolment of more Botswanan children into schools and improved pupil-teacher and pupil:classroom ratios, but has not had the impact on education quality or outcomes that was hoped for.
Unlike many sub-Saharan states, Botswana has allocated substantial resources to education. Since UPE was adopted, education expenditure as a percentage of GDP has risen from 6.8 to 10.9% and from 19.1 to 24.5% as a percentage of total government expenditure.
Botswana’s latest education statistics suggest that UPE has almost been achieved, but they have to be read with caution in view of previous discrepancies between education statistics and national population figures. Other key findings include:Donors have significantly financed expansion of facilities, yet the budget (three quarters of which is used to pay teachers) has remained Botswana’s responsibility. Teachers salaries have declined in real terms: whereas the disparity between a primary teacher’s income and that of a senior civil servant was 1:5 in 1978, by 2000 it had increased to 1:13. There is a lack of legal action against defaulting contractors without any prosecution. This has resulted in companies being awarded tenders and slipping out of them, and continuous delays in constructing classrooms and teachers’ quarters. Some policy-makers have expressed commitment to UPE but undermined it by a strategy that assigns university graduates to the central government at the expense of understaffed local authorities. Scheduling the achievement of projects is often made up, by under financing: projects continue into subsequent financial years which demands costly bureaucratic procedures to prepare supplementary estimates to address the shortfalls.
In Botswana, high economic growth persists alongside high levels of income inequality. In urban areas school enrolment rates among the poorest 20% are higher than in rural areas but remain low compared to those for higher income groups. To achieve UPE policy-makers in Botswana need to:
- tackle urban bias and recognise that efforts to increase school enrolments must be accompanied by efforts to reduce poverty in marginalised rural districts;
- ensure that those who enrol in the first year are not allowed to quit until they have completed seven years of primary education;
- improve the quality of primary school teaching and the skills and morale of teachers; and
- address the negative attitudes of parents to education in those districts with high drop-out and repetition rates.
Source: ‘Financing primary education for all: Botswana’, Institute of Development Studies, by Lisenda Lisenda, January 2004
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