The United States of America’s incumbent President – Joe Biden once said, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Biden famously said this at the time when he was the Vice Prisedent of one of the powerful nations in the world – the US. In Botswana, the question that local socio-economic commentators always face around the month of February when the nation get glued to their television to hear the Finance Minister’s national budget speech is whether Botswana value its children.
A consensus amongst local economists, atleast two of them, is that Botswana children, families, and educators can be supported–or get harmed–by the national budget. This is mainly because each passing year law makers at Parliament determine how much of the nation’s investments should be directed towards leveling the playing field and creating equitable access to opportunity and success.
A non state actor – Botswana Children’s Rights Network recently developed an analysis of the 2021/22 National Budget from a child-centred perspective. Two of the country’s independent economists -Sennye Obuseng and Bogolo Kenewendo facilitated the discussion.
Unpacking what the national budget has for Botswana’schildren, Obuseng warned that the country’s long-term aspirational goals of a knowledge economy are pie in the sky unless it invests effectively in children.
Botswana‘s education ministries are part of those at the forefront of child development. Education is one of the most vital and transformative investments a nation can make in its future. Both economists believe quality education for children builds globally competitive human capital and global citizens, supports investment and economic growth, reduces unemployment and poverty, and accelerates human development. Obuseng said, whilst Botswana spends about 27% of its recurrent budget on education and claims by far the highest share of recurrent expenditure, its development budget allocation does not even make the top six.
The education system in the country is mainly managed by four ministries, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), Ministry of Basic Education (MOBE), Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research and Technology (MOTE) and Ministry of Employment, Labour and Skills Development (MELSD).
Obuseng said that traditionally the education sector receives the largest share of funding in the national budget. He shared that public expenditure on education has averaged 22 percent of total budget between 2015/16 and 2019/20, followed by economic and general services at 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively while health sat at 12 percent.
In the current fiscal year, education received about 23 percent of the total budget or 8 percent of GDP, indicating the long-standing priority of investment into the sector which is above the international spending benchmark of 20 percent of the national budget for education.
Botswana’s public expenditure in education includes recurrent and development (capital) expenditures. The recurrent expenditure accounts for the bulk of education’s allocation of the national budget.
“The budget analysis for the recurrent expenditure shows a rise in the budget provided, main increase under basic education, which only deals with inflationary adjustments for salaries and emoluments not the increase in resource allocation, in the form of hiring more teachers and providing learning materials,” Obuseng said.
He added that infrastructure development in the form of building more classrooms to avoid the crowing of students has taken a back seat in the past years. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled the education system to introduce shifts in schools, a move to reduce classroom crowding.
“In 2021/22, the education development budget increased to 12 percent of the sector’s total budget or P1.61 billion,” Obuseng said.
Lately the education sector’s development budget focused mainly on the rollout of digitization in schools which includes availing ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools, developing and sourcing e-learning content for pupils.
In terms of the ministerial allocation of the education sector budget, Obuseng said that a larger proportion of the sector’s budget goes to the two main ministries being MOBE and MOTE.
“This is in line with the Government’s commitment to priorities human capital development in Botswana. The MOBE is allocated about P9.52 billion during the 2021/22 financial year, an increase of P510.84 million from its budget allocation in 2020/21 financial year,” he said. This will be spent mainly on salaries, payment of utilities, books and stationery. Obuseng said the MOTE will spend about P4.60 billion in the current financial year and a larger proportion will be spent mainly on tertiary student scholarships and subventions to universities.
Undoubtedly, Botswana has a strong commitment to investing in education. This is indicated by the consistent spending in education across all education levels and a higher budget priority in education. “There appears to be a major imbalance in spending across the different levels of education with pre and primary education suffering from inadequate resources,” Obuseng said. Hence, it is essential to provide quality early childhood education and care for a better learning outcome in later years. “Investing in quality education is critical to producing desired education outcomes, which in turn contributes to the long-term aspirations of Botswana’s transformation agenda and a knowledge-based economy,” Obuseng exhorted. Inefficient spending on the education budget raises concerns about the overall performance of the sector.
Kenewendo, giving the recommendations said, the government needs to make the investment in children the country’s top development priority. “Effective investment in education and health is the single most critical investment for delivering inclusive prosperity, a knowledge economy and society,” she said. The former Trade Minister emphasised that prioritizing children in public planning and budgetary processes imperative. This means, specifying outcomes for children and attaching resources to those outcomes. Kenewendo said the government must urgently reform education with a focus on significantly improving performance, relevance and quality across the entire education value chain.