Sunday, October 17, 2021

Budget increases in Education are not the sector’s panacea ÔÇô World Bank

Despite having the highest share of spending on Education of all developing regions, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)’s workforce is the least skilled in the world, according to the World Bank’s Africa Pulse Report. The finding from the report validates the observation in Botswana of the same.

World Bank says that without a skilled workforce the economy’s prospects become constrained. On the backdrop of the skills impasse that Botswana finds itself in it is not surprising that the economy is sluggishly moving forward, and it doesn’t help that the country’s foremost growth driver is the capital-intensive mining sector.

“Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have invested heavily in skills building, with public expenditure on education increasing sevenfold over the past 30 years. On average, education absorbs about 15 percent of total public spending and nearly 5 percent of GDP, the largest spending ratios among developing regions,” cites the report. It indicates a variation across SSA countries in the range of about 11 to 28 percent of total government spending, and from 2 to 15 percent of GDP. In the case of Botswana, the latest figures from the World Bank data portal show that education made up 20.5 percent of the total government spending in 2009 from 26.5 percent in 2007. Two years prior, in 2005, the share of education was 25.8 percent. What emerges is a country that is committed to providing education but against a starved labor market the effort is sadly sabotaged.

The report goes further to urge SSA countries to build skills and do so by smarter spending so as to achieve better outcomes. This is one advice that Botswana needs to heed because the result of its spending on education is not seen in the labor market. The mismatch between the skills produced and those needed by the job market remains a sticking point for the country. “But smart investing in skills is more difficult than it looks,” says the report.

If smart investing is not as straightforward, what then should countries like Botswana do to navigate towards the goal? World Bank Lead Economist David Evans responded to this publication that increases in efficiency need not inherently translate to large budget increases. He suggests a shift in teacher training from being deeply theoretical to it assuming a more hands on approach, which he says could increase returns as it is a more effective teacher professional development.   

“Improving the quality of teacher selection processes ÔÇô ensuring that the selection is based on actual teacher skill rather than patronage or pure seniority ÔÇô would likely improve the quality of teaching without adding to the budget. At the level of skills training, increasing engagement with the private sector may not translate into budget increases if the private sectors sees the gains they will receive by participating in skills training.”

One step that Botswana has taken to improving its skills-base is to compile an annual list of occupations identified by the employers as being in high demand at a national level, and informed by national priorities as outlined in the VISION2036, National Development Plan (NDP 11) and long term strategies of the different sectors of the economy. The 2016 list, compiled by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), includes occupations across health, public sector, agriculture and creative industry to mention but a few. Examples are Specialist Radiographers, Specialist Lawyers, Soil scientists and Journalists, which are considered occupations that are currently experiencing shortages in the labour market (short term) and occupations that show relatively strong employment growth (long term). In light of what Evans proposed perhaps a continued engagement between HRDC and employers could result in them participating in earnest and deliberate skills training.

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