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Does more money for education mean quality education?

Commentary in the Citizen of 12 June, 2010 by Rose Aiko

I think it would be naive to expect that the quality of education can be improved by simply allocating it more money. There are other important factors, the most critical of which being where that money is spent and how it is managed.

Education has been the most favoured sector in budget allocations of recent years, and has consistently received budget increases for the last decade. Since 2006/07 the education sector’s share of the government’s budget has been between 18-20 percent. Ten years ago, in 2000/01, the sector was receiving roughly 218 billion shillings, in 2009/10 the sector was allocated 1.74 trillion shillings, and in 2010/11 2.05 trillion is set aside for education. Today the education sector’s budget is almost ten times what used to be ten years ago!

Figure: Education Sector Budget (total and as share of government budget), 1999/00-2010/11

The most successful result for Tanzania of higher funding for education is to increase enrollment rates in schools, to ease teachers shortage—not that there are enough well qualified teachers in public schools, and to make it possible for more facilities to be built. Education statistics show, for example, that more than 95 percent of school age children can now go to school and most of them are accommodated in public schools. Ten years ago, only about 60% of the school age children were able to attend school. This is certainly a big step.

However, even with the higher funding that is already going to education, the scarcity factor has not disappeared. There are more school age children today than there were ten years ago, and we need more teachers, learning materials and facilities than we could possibly get with the money allocated to the sector.

This is where the Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys (PETS) become a useful tool, because they tell us where the money goes, how it is channelled, how it is managed and what it buys at the end of the day. PETS also create the possibility, by making the issues known, of correcting shortfalls - provided of course we are committed enough to do something.

What we know of Tanzania from studies, reviews like the recent PETS that was commissioned by the Ministry of Education and from media reports is that despite increased opportunities for attending schools, the quality of education offered in schools leaves a lot to be desired. We have all heard or seen that conditions for learning are not the same throughout the country. The PETS shows that there are problems with the flow of funds and issues around the way money for primary and secondary education is managed that undermine effectiveness of education spending. It also shows that schools in rural areas are faced with a poorer learning environment compared to schools in urban areas. In the case of secondary education, community schools and schools in rural areas receive fewer financial and human resources per student, and have lower examination pass rates compared to government schools and schools in urban areas. All this suggest that we are far from achieving equitable quality education for every child and we have got to be careful about how we spend the money.

In 2007/08 which is the year covered by the most recent Public Expenditure survey, 56 percent of the education sector budget was allocated to basic education and 16 percent to secondary education. We don’t know how education sector budget will be distributed in 2010/11. But we do know for example that in 2009/10, 75 percent of the budget was allocated to basic education which includes primary schooling, 22 percent went to finance technical and higher education and the remaining 3 percent was distributed between teacher education and secondary education.

How much are we doing as a people to make sure that these resources are effectively used to elevate quality of education and to achieve equity? There is a big difference between attending school and learning and I believe that the money going to education should be able, if well spent, to buy a better quality of learning than it is doing at the moment. If a good part of what we have is just an opportunity for more children to spend time in schools, then something is wrong and we should care enough to correct it.

Imagine that as a parent you encourage your child to go to school every day but then one day you discover that at standard 5, 6 or even 7 your child does not have capability to read and/or write. Would a higher budget for education mean anything to you under the circumstances?

Read more: education money quality schools Tanzania

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