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Date: Sun, 28 Jun 98 16:48:26 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: SOUTH AFRICA: Economic Policies Will Hurt Education
Article: 37872
Message-ID: <bulk.11620.19980629181628@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 490.0 **/
** Topic: DEVELOPMENT BULLETIN-SOUTH AFRICA: Macro-economic Policies Will **
** Written 4:09 PM Jun 23, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Macro-economic Policies Will Hurt Education

By Gumisai Mutume, IPS
20 June 1998

JOHANNESBURG, Jun 15 (IPS) - When teachers threatened recently to embark on the biggest national strike after independence, fingers again pointed at South Africa's macro-economic policies.

Government's newly adopted Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, and all the cuts in social spending it envisages, is being singled out as having dire consequences on education, among other sectors.

"The education crisis which our country now faces is due in no small measure to GEAR's spending cuts and is due to the obsession with down-sizing government services, regardless of South Africa's social needs," says the Deputy Secretary General of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zwelinzima Vavi.

COSATU's opposition to GEAR "has not simply been abstract or ideological. We have opposed GEAR, because of the very practical negative impact which it is going to have on the level of government service delivery and on jobs".

Education has already started to feel the pinch of GEAR. During the 1997/98 financial year, the education budget was cut by more than six percent. Even the national Education Minister Sibusiso Bengu warned of the consequences of such a move in a country with a 48 prcent illiteracy rate.

Under GEAR, which was adopted in 1996, government has to downsize. It aims to cut its budget deficit to three percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

The forces of globalisation have made it incumbent upon President Nelson Mandela's government to carry out budgetary reforms, gradually relax tariffs and exchange controls, and introduce labour market flexibility.

What this means is that the power of the unions is slowly being eroded, jobs are being lost and the value of the Rand falling, raising the cost of living.

In 1996, more than 71,000 jobs were lost in the formal economy compared to the 126,000 GEAR envisaged and last year, 100,000 were lost. Real GDP has grown sluggishly by about three percent in 1996 -- below the GEAR target. GEAR envisages growth rates of six percent by the turn of the century, by which time 400,000 jobs are expected to be created annually.

Given the government's commitment to meet the deficit targets and given the rising debt servicing burden, fewer resources will be available for social spending, especially in the education sector where a crisis is looming.

The South African Demratic Teacher's Union (SADTU) says a dire shortage of textbooks and other learnng materials, oversized classrooms, failure to pay temporary teachers and horrendous working conditions have all contributed to the education crisis which nearly saw 300,000 teachers down their chalks last week.

Teachers were opposing, among other issues, the power of provincial governments to set teacher numbers according to their budgets. The strike was averted at the last minute, but critics say only the symptoms and not the problems have been solved.

"SADTU has tied the teachers into the three-year medium term expenditure framework - the structural adjustment programme of the IMF/World Bank that is based on prioritising the interest of big business and the apartheid debt over the interest of the very masses that voted the ANC into government," says the Cape Town- based Workers International Vanguard League (WIVL).

"SADTU have reduced their power to negotiate over crucial issues such as national standards, to mere consultation, leaving all power in the hands of the Minister of Education. The provinces still have the power to retrench," and the recent agreement struck merely postpones mass retrenchment to a later date, WIVL adds.

By subjecting pupil:teacher ratios to the dictates of the deficit chase, the system will fall, the league says.

South Africa's education system is characterised by high repetition rates at all levels and poor outcomes at secondary and tertiary levels. The Education Policy Unit says that 67 percent of all schools are without textbooks.

Estimated at 22.6 percent of the GDP, funding of basic education compares favourably with other developing countries, but the worrying feature is the high level of current expenditure devoted to salaries.

At primary school level, expenditure on teacher salaries was 360 U.S. dollars per pupil in 1996/97 and 20 cents on schoolbooks and 20 cents on stationery.

The government is of the opinion that it is spending enough on education, but agrees that there is need to re-direct resources, optimise use and create efficiency. Real expenditure on education is set to decline next year.

But while government is determined to cut spending on education, there is consensus on the other side that improvements in education and training would be the most effective way of lifting the South African economy out of the structural limitations imposed by the apartheid past.

A study released by the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) this year notes that the highest proportion of students come from poor families and a strategy of higher fees necessitated by a reduction in publi resources would disadvantage them.

"The burden of increased funding for basic education will therefore fall increasingly on private households, especially those who have the ability to pay," says the FFC report. "However, user fees will have to be applied in a way that does not increase inequality in educational spending."

Given the present scenario, the FFC recommends a number of options: To gradually reduce teachers' salaries in real terms over a 5-10 year period; implement productivity-enhanced mechanisms; use less qualified teachers, especially at the basic education level; or increase class sizes. (end/ips/gm/pm/98)


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