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Does SA invest three times more in education than Kenya?

This article is more than 5 years old

  • A member of the ruling party claimed in parliament that SA spends three times more than Kenya on education.

  • In 2014 SA spent 7.4 times more per primary school pupil – in international dollar terms – than Kenya

  • But as share of GDP, SA spent only 1.1 times more than Kenya. And the country scored lower in literacy and numeracy assessments.

With only 1% more to spend in the 2018/19 financial year, South Africa’s department of basic education “has had to reduce what it purchases”, minister Angie Motshekga said recently.

She made the statement while tabling the department’s budget in the national assembly.

Alvin Botes, a member of parliament from the ruling African National Congress, pointed out that South Africa still spends a lot of money on education.

“It is a fact, honourable chairperson, that in South Africa we spend on average three times more on education than a country like Kenya,” Botes said.

Amounts spent on each pupil

Botes told Africa Check that he used different sources to reach his conclusion.

The first was a 2012 article by education economist Nic Spaull on the performance of the South African education system since 1994.

Spaull wrote that Kenya spent $258 per pupil on education in 2006, while South Africa spent $1,225 per pupil – five times as much, not three times, as Botes said. (To compare the value of money in different countries, currencies are converted into the “international dollar” – a method known as purchasing power parities, or PPPs.)

The data was from a report on spending on primary education per pupil by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The most recent Unesco data shows that the gap has widened. In 2014, Kenya spent $307 on primary education per pupil, while South Africa spent 7.4 times more at $2,271.

Government spending and economy size

Botes told Africa Check that he also compared spending on education as a share of each country’s gross domestic product. GDP indicates the size of an economy. For this he used reports by the World Bank and South Africa’s national treasury.

For Kenya, he used World Bank data from 2013/2014. The bank said Kenya’s education sector “still accounts for the lion’s share of the total spending at 5.8% of GDP”.

However, the South African treasury data Botes directed us to referred to the share of government expenditure - not GDP - that South Africa spent on education. In 2013 the figure stood at 19.7%.

Comparing the two countries’ spend on education as a share of GDP, the most recent data shows that South Africa spent 1.1 times more than Kenya in 2014.

Government spend on education as percentage of GDP
South Africa6%

Source: UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2017

Assessing the quality of education

South Africa gives more money to education than Kenya, but that doesn’t translate into better outcomes.

A 2017 report said that “South African Grade 6 schoolchildren [were] on average about a year’s learning behind Kenya”. This was according to results from the 2011 Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) assessment.

The 2007 assessment found that 27% of South African Grade 6 students were functionally illiterate compared to 8% in Kenya. A pupil is functionally illiterate if they can’t read and understand a short and simple text.

South African pupils were also more likely to be functionally innumerate (40%) than their Kenyan counterparts (11%). These pupils don’t understand fractions or know how to interpret common units of measurement.

South Africa does do well when it comes to enrolment rates and years of education completed, but these haven’t improved pupils’ education.

“High rates of attainment must be accompanied by quality education in order for this to be the case,” a report by education economists from the University of Stellenbosch’s Research on Socio-Economic Policy noted.

Education scores for South Africa and Kenya
South AfricaKenyaAverage for SACMEQ III countries (2007)
Reading score495543513
Mathematics score495557512
Functionally illiterate27%8%18%
Functionally innumerate40%11%30%
Average number of school computers1313
Average number of school library books1,204961722

Source: SACMEQ at a glance by Nic Spaull (2012)

Conclusion: SA spent 1.1 times more on education as share of GDP than Kenya

A South African member of parliament claimed that the country spends “on average three times more on education than a country like Kenya”.

The most recent available data does not support his claim.

In 2014, South Africa spent 7.4 times more per primary school pupil than Kenya in international dollar terms. But when spending on education was compared as a share of GDP, South Africa spent just 1.1 times more in total.

It is important to note that higher spending has not led to better education outcomes across the board. Regional assessments found that Kenyan pupils outperformed South African pupils in both literacy and numeracy.

Edited by Kate Wilkinson


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