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Education and Finance in Africa

Shanta Devarajan's picture

At a recent conference that brought together African Finance and Education ministers, the keynote speaker, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, finance minister (and former education minister) of Singapore gave a beautiful speech about Singapore's experience that contained some potentially difficult and controversial messages for Africa.

1.  There is a virtuous circle of education and growth, but you need to create it.  This means that finance ministers should be concerned about education, and education ministers about economic growth. [At the conference, one participant, when asked a question about education in his country, said "I'm the finance minister, not the education minister."]

2.  Singapore emphasized technical and vocational education by giving it prestige that was almost equal to academic education.  This involved, among other things, a public relations campaign.  As participants at the conference said, in Africa, we also need to deliver on the quality of vocational and technical education.

3.  Singapore's insistence on education being a meritocracy (students advance purely on merit) has led to equity.  For instance, the top 5 percent of the students come from 95 percent of the schools.  But to make this work, the education system needs to be insulated from politics.  As Tharman said, the role of political leaders is to keep politics out of education.

4.  In Singapore, universities charge full fees, and give scholarships to low-income students.  The government encourages private donations to universities, matching them one-for-one.  How many African universities can overcome the political resistance to charging fees?.

5.  Singapore has done well with teacher training because it has been linked with pay-for-performance for teachers.  Without the latter (which if often resisted by teachers' unions), it is difficult to get results from the former.

6.  Interestingly, Tharman didn't mention foreign aid once (even though the conference participants discussed it many times).  He was even equivocal on the importance of public spending, pointing out that Singapore spends less (as a share of the budget) on education than the OECD, and yet has better test scores.  There was more emphasis on efficiency gains.  To achieve these efficiency gains, it's important that finance and education ministers hold each other accountable.  I found the statements by finance and education ministers from the same country saying how well they got along a bit troubling:  there has to be some tension in the relationship for the mutual accountability to work.

Finally, Kevin Watkins gave a presentation on the EFA Global Monitoring Report which struck me as providing the best way to make the case for protecting and even increasing aid to education:  that aid has been productive, generating unprecedented increases in enrolment in Africa.  If donors want their aid to be productive, this is a sector they should support.

Comments

Submitted by Mark on
Despite of the chaotic world that we had, education should never have to be neglected. Education is important in building more workforces, which are highly competitive to meet the global standard. Good opportunity awaits for those who have a good and excellent education. It will also help to lessen the unemployment problem. Education can change the future of the youth. All it takes is the courage to pursue for our dreams. We need to give more importance on this, even it would take having an online cash to sustain for the educational expenses. Government must have done their part in providing a competent graduate. For more info visit: http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/07/15/people/

Submitted by Angule on
Education for Sustainable Development is the Answer to Speedy Development in Kenya under Regional Centres of Expertise which is a local strategic think tank of the UN and its agencies. iEARn Kenya has facilitated the setting up of one such a team for Western Kenya at kakamega.

From the Guardian's experience in Katine, Uganda (where the newspaper launched a rural development initiative in 2007 with NGO partner Amref) low wages and notably the reluctance for teachers to move to rural communities have compounded the problems faced in providing education in the region. Even with the development intervention in the area, a recent article finds though enrolement in schools is up, the conditions in which pupils are taught is still exteremely poor. http://bit.ly/c1NaI It would be interesting to hear what recommendations were made at the conference to incentivise teachers to move to rural areas. Thank you.

I find it very interesting to africa but in a matter of education and policy leaves much to be desired Sorry my point of view.

Submitted by Wilfred on
I have always being struck by how little emphasis is placed on vocational education and teacher training. In terms of funding, it would appear that the World Bank and similar institutions place too much emphasis on infrastructure (school buildings) over content (school books written for local consumption. I hope this changes.

Submitted by YorTz on
From the Guardian's experience in Katine, Uganda (where the newspaper launched a rural development initiative in 2007 with NGO partner Amref) low wages and notably the reluctance for teachers to move to rural communities have compounded the problems faced in providing education in the region. Even with the development intervention in the area, a recent article finds though enrolement in schools is up, the conditions in which pupils are taught is still exteremely poor.http://bit.ly/c1NaIIt would be interesting to hear what recommendations were made at the conference to incentivise teachers to move to rural areas.Thank you.

Submitted by Peter Mask on
I'm a huge admirer of Singapore because of the economic progress that was achieved there in say the last 30 to 40 years. I assume a significant portion of this success-story can be attributed to the educational system of Singapore. So it's very reasonable to listen to the experiences made there and probably advisable to implement all the elements suitable for the african context, as this seems to be a recipe for success/improvement in the long run.

Submitted by Charles Gundy on
With the job maket for finance professionals less than robust in the "developped" world, perhaps we will see African-born MBA's returning to their countries of origin where their skills are much in demand.

Submitted by Afrikanus Kofi Akosah on
It's time for Africa to embrace school choice policies where money will follow students not schools. In poorest parts of Africa, private sector provides better educational opportunities than the state. the key is that the poor CHOOSE to pay for better quality even when govt offers it "FREE". it is a problem of incentives. public-sector educators have little accountability. it is almost impossible for citizens to "force" govts to do anything.

Submitted by Angule on
Regional Centre of Expertise The United Nations has recognized Grand Rapids as a Regional Centre of Expertise for Education on Sustainable Development. According to the United Nations, a Regional Centre of Expertise should have the following four elements: * Governance * Collaboration * Research and development * Transformative education Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), is an approach to education which teaches all people to assume responsibility in creating a sustainable future. Making sure students and the public are aware of sustainable practices is a key step which preceeds the creation of a sustainable community.

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