Sunday, March 7, 2021

Days of free education may be numbered

If a parent can afford to put their children through private schools (commonly known as “English-medium schools”), surely they must be able to do the same with tertiary education institutions.
That is the conclusion of a report prepared on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP), as the report is called, is to be implemented over a five-year period with 2020 as the terminal point. What the ETSSP says supports a long-running campaign that the Bretton Woods institutions have been championing for some time now.
In a report assessing Botswana poverty that was published last December, the World Bank recommended that the Botswana government could reduce scholarships by about 25 percent for students from high-income families. More than 42 percent of scholarship beneficiaries are from the wealthiest quintile and only 4.7 percent from the poorest fifth. Students from high-income families could cover a share of the cost of their tertiary education, while poor students would maintain their merit/need-based scholarships covering the full cost of a tertiary education.
Mindful of what kinks may need to be tangled with the premature implementation of such cost-sharing measures, the ETSSP says that it will be necessary to undertake a study to determine how much of the cost of education households can afford to shoulder, especially at tertiary level. 
“A delicate balance is called for, given that Botswana has a relatively young population (with a 53 percent dependency ratio). Moreover, unemployment level is high at 17.8 percent while 18.4 percent of the population lives below the poverty datum line,” the ETSSP says.
On the other hand, the Bank has worked out the figures. In place of a social protection programme that targets individuals – rich ones included, the Bank has proposed that Botswana should adopt one that targets families ÔÇô the Family Support Grant (FSG) as it calls it. It says that this programme would offer a benefit level set around the average consumption gap that would help achieve the country’s objective of eliminating absolute poverty. The (minimum) target group for such a programme would be the number of people in absolute poverty. To implement the FSG, the government would need to develop a mechanism to identify (target) families living in absolute poverty. This report recommends the development and use of a targeting system. The Bank says that “Scholarships and sponsorships for tertiary students cost P1.674 million in 2012/13, or 1.4 percent of GDP, and absorbs 45 percent of total social-assistance spending. Reallocating a small share of these resources away from this programme and channeling them to the FSG could eradicate absolute poverty. The government could reduce scholarships by about 25 percent for high-income students.”


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