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Wednesday 21 February 2018

Education’s expectations of the Budget

Education’s expectations

Given the current state of the economy, there is an even greater level of anxiety in the country over the impending Budget. What is almost certain is that the country has to come to grips with the stark reality of dwindling revenues.

The economists and interest groups have been characteristically giving their advice to the Minister of Finance in the hope that their views would be incorporated into the much anticipated presentation on October 2.

Historically, we have been down similar roads and would have hopefully learnt some valuable lessons from past experiences. As individuals we know that when our income levels decline we have to make commensurate adjustments in our spending.

We also have to be more prudent with scarce financial resources and will demand greater value for money, eliminate or reduce wastage and insist that all family members share the burden of adjustment.

With this basic logic in mind we will expect the Minister of Finance to outline measures to ensure that wastage is eliminated, efficiency in governance is enhanced and the burden of economic adjustments is not carried by one sector of the society — the workers through wage cuts/freezes or retrenchment.

The corporate sector must be made to carry their commensurate share of economic adjustments, be it higher corporate taxation, reduced concessions for doing business, greater levels of risk-taking and reinvestment of profits into the local economy.

At the same time, workers and their families must adjust consumption patterns, and place greater emphasis on savings and investments. Prioritising of expenditure must become a norm in each household, with investments in education being given top billing. Our insatiable appetite for foreign goods and services must be reviewed in the context of needs versus wants. Fiscal discipline must begin in our homes.

In the national context, education being a public good must maintain its priority investment status. However, there is need for efficiency and value for money. These will undoubtedly be guiding principles in the Finance Minister’s presentation.

For too long we have seen money thrown down the drain, either for political patronage and nepotism or due to ill-conceived educational reforms. Has the country been getting value for the money it invests in education? Are the graduates of the education system making the contributions to the economic, social and cultural well-being of the country they ought to?

We continue to see large numbers of students graduate from our tertiary institutions to realise there are no jobs aligned to their qualifications. It is no secret that the tertiary education sector swallows a large chunk of the allocation to education. We have seen a proliferation of private tertiary education institutions blossom overnight throughout the country thanks to the generosity of the State. At the same time our primary

education sector — the very foundation of our education system, continue to languish in dilapidated infrastructure.

So while the Finance Minister is pondering on priority spending and fiscal discipline, this is an opportune time for him to reflect on how and where scarce resources should be focused in the education sector while maintaining its high agenda status.

It might also be wise for the Government to reflect upon the education model that in currently in use against its development priorities since our model essentially produces “workers” and consumers, rather that people who create employment through innovation. We produce school graduates who consume technology rather than create it. The minister must ask if such an education arrangement is capable of taking our economy away from fossil fuel dependence and along a path of sustainable development.

We await his pronouncements.


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