What you pay to produce a matric

2012-05-19 17:35

SA’s education bill is high by international ­standards

It cost the South African taxpayer almost half a million rands in 2011 to produce just one matriculant.

That’s the outcome of a ­City Press study conducted with the help of prominent labour ­economist Loane Sharp from ­Adcorp.

Sharp crunched 12 years of ­education budget and enrolment data to help us answer a simple question: what did it cost the ­taxpayer to get a pupil in the Grade 1 class of 2000 to become a matric graduate in 2011?

Our study didn’t include the cost of school fees, which can reach well over R20 000 a year in some state schools.

Using data obtained from the Treasury and basic education ­department, Sharp calculated:

» It cost South Africa R3 386 to educate each pupil in 2000 and R12 551 last year;

» Based on this trend, it will cost the state R43 300 per pupil per ­year in 10 years’ time, or R25 000 in today’s money;

» It cost a total of R87 600 to get a child from Grade 1 in 2000 to ­matric in 2011;

» It cost R442 900 to produce each matric in 2011 based on the total education budget of that year and the matric pass rate (see ­sidebar for Sharp’s methodology and his argument for his ­calculation); and

» Between 2008 and 2011, total provincial education spending ­increased by 41% even as matric enrolments decreased by 7% over that period.

The analysis underscores the fact that South Africa’s education bill is high by international ­standards.
In 2009, according to a Unesco study, South Africa’s education spending at 5.6% of gross national product was higher than that of the UK, the US and Canada.

It now stands at 6%.

Sharp’s analysis shows that over the past 12 years the teacher wage costs as a percentage of the total education budget dropped from 90% to 77%, which means more money was available for infrastructure, textbooks and support for schools.

Professor Servaas van der Berg from the Stellenbosch University’s department of economics said that more pressure needed to ­come from parents in order for the ­education ­system to become more effective.

“Our research has shown that not all parents realise that passing a grade doesn’t necessarily mean learning is taking place.”

John Kruger from Oxford Policy Management said education expenditure is so high because a large proportion of our population is at school-going age, a large proportion of school-going age children are attending school and our teacher pay is relatively high.

He said teacher salaries had been adjusted upwards between 2005 and 2010 “to restore parity with other professions in the ­public sector ... to ensure that we could attract talented people to the profession”.

“While our spending therefore does not seem exceptional or ­unwarranted, the underperformance of our system in terms of quality outputs has been clearly documented,” he said.

Yusuf Sayed, a reader in international education at the University of Sussex, said: “One way of doing that (improving the quality of educaiton) would be to have certain ­teachers not belonging to one school but rather to a cluster of schools.

“Secondly, and this goes back to the problem of unions, is how do you get teachers to perform better and how do you sanction bad ­performance?

“Ultimately, this question has to be tackled head-on,” he said.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s spokesperson, Hope Mokgatlhe, said the department was not able to prevent pupils from progressing to the next grade in ­order to keep costs down.

“Interventions are in place to ­lower the school drop-out rate, ­including extending school nutrition and workbook coverage to high schools, offering free maths and science textbooks courtesy of the Shuttleworth Foundation, ­providing curriculumcoverage ­instruments to ensure that ­teachers ­cover the curriculum, and a National Learner Attainment Strategy of the department.

“Education expenditure in South Africa is on par with other middle-income countries,” she said.

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