SA’s matrics cost taxpayer R442,900 each
JEANNE VAN DER MERWE
It cost the South African taxpayer R442,900 in 2011 to produce a single matriculant.
That’s the outcome of a City Press study conducted with the help of prominent labour economist, Adcorp’s Loane Sharp.
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 doesn’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 national Treasury and Department of Basic Education, 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;
* That 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;
* Over the period 2008-2011, total provincial education spending increased by a total of 41% even as matric enrolments decreased by 7.0% over that period.
The analysis underscores the fact that South Africa’s education bill is high by international standards.
In 2009, according to Unesco, South Africa’s education spending at 5,6% of gross national product was higher than that of the UK, the USA and Canada. It stands at 6% now.
Sharp’s analysis shows that over 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.
Prof. Servaas van der Berg from Stellenbosch University’s economics department, said that in order for the education system to become more effective, more pressure needed to come from parents.
“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, says 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.
Kruger said teacher salaries were adjusted upward 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 educaiton quality] 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.
Education minister Angie Motshekga’s spokeswoman 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 curriculum coverage instruments to ensure that teachers cover the curriculum, and a National Learner Attainment Strategy of the DBE.
“Education expenditure in South Africa is on par with other middle-income countries,” she said.