The Botswana Sectors of Educators trade Union (BOSETU) notes that the 2021/2022 budget proposals were made under very challenging times due to the COVID 19 pandemic. As a trade union we note further, that Botswana economy and the entire world was and still is adjusting and responding to the biggest shock of this century, which is COVID-19. We have no doubt as a trade union that, the pandemic has had many socio – economic impacts that include low economic to negative growth of most sectors of the economy, increased rates of unemployment especially for the youth, poverty and balance of payment decline.
We note further that it is on record that Botswana’s economy has declined by almost 25 percent in period of March to June 2020, which period covers the longest national lockdown in April 2020. We make this commentary on the education sector budget well aware that the education sector was not spared in terms of the impact, as budgets had to be readjusted to accommodate the COVID 19 responses such as acquiring the required sanitizers and putting up water and other infrastructure to comply with the COVID 19 protocols.
FISCAL CHANGES TO THE 2021 BUDGET
While we appreciate the challenges that government is facing in raising the required revenue to finance the budget, we do not think the timing is right for the raising of VAT by 2 percentage points and implementation of a levy on sweetened beverages, fuel levy, plastic levy and introduction of levy on second hand vehicles imported into Botswana. Teachers and Batswana in general are at their weakest financial point given the impact that the COVID 19 pandemic has had on their livelihoods and may not be able to withstand these changes in the cost of living. All these levies and change in VAT will have an impact of increasing inflation. Even though the impact on inflation will be short term to medium term, there are however potential long term effects of reduced living standards of Batswana in general. It is our believe that these levies and tax changes could have been delayed to a post COVID 19 period. It is worth noting that taxes and levies if too high also have the deleterious effects of dampening the growth of the economy. BOSETU is worried that Government seems to have given up in trying to diversify the economy to generate the growth and revenue and instead it has turned to its ordinary citizens to directly increase its purse. With the current high – income inequalities, such regressive tax and levy measures will do more harm to the poorer households and increase the already worse income inequality of the country. We urge government to postpone the fiscal changes in this current period of crises. Households and workers need support from government rather than being required to lose more of their very limited resources to government during a crises.
OUR RESPONSE TO THE BUDGET PROPOSALS
As BOSETU, we note and acknowledge Government’s initiatives of a series of fiscal and financial packages put up to address the health emergency needs, easing of liquidity pressures on businesses, and safeguarding of jobs and household incomes. We as well note the launching of the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) to fast track recovery of the economy and transformation.
We note Governments acknowledgement that export led growth requires improved competitiveness and productivity and reduction of the costs of domestic production. Such competitiveness we would add requires a highly motivated work force. We therefore are eager to work with government to improve the working conditions of the workers especially teachers so that we can effectively achieve the required competitiveness.
We also note with concern the decline of the Government Investment Account portion of the Official Reserves that went towards financing the budget deficit of 14.3 billion. The decline of this portion of the reserves from P17.8 billion at the end of 2019 to P5.6 billion as of November 2020 is quite worrisome as it implies the economy now stands in a relatively weak position to withstand any future shocks. We are very much concerned that the budget speech does not detail the main import expenditure which would have helped rationalizing the use of the reserves especially if a great proportion of that expenditure was used to procure COVID 19 related equipment such as Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs). Provision of that transparency in the budget speech would have allayed Batswana’s fears and concerns of possible misuse or misallocation of the reserves from the Government Investment Account.
We also note the intention to deal with the inefficiencies of the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) some of which have duplicating and overlapping mandates. We are however highly worried about the implications of possible closure and liquidation of some SOEs, especially possible impact on the loss of jobs and the possible increase in the dependency ratio as a result at a time of an already jobless growth economy with very high unemployment rate of about 25 percent as reported in this current budget speech. We are equally worried by the statement that SOEs will also be required to raise a greater portion of their own revenues. Such requirements especially for those that are natural monopolies may mean that they have to raise the revenues from increasing their tariffs which will have very negative impacts on Batswana and on the welfare of teachers whose salaries are generally low. Such increments must be managed and made within reasonable limits to avoid the extreme loss in welfare as has happened recently with the increase in electricity tariffs by Botswana Power Corporation in the middle of the COVID 19 pandemic. In fact, these could have been avoided during this time of the economic challenges faced by most workers and households and BOSETU is concerned by such insensitive developments.
The budget speech acknowledges that one of the major development challenges facing the country is high level of unemployment especially among the youth. A number of these unemployed youth are well trained and qualified teachers. BOSETU is disappointed that government does not have a clear strategy for creating sustainable employment opportunities for these young graduates. Government currently engages these youth in non-sustainable programmes in the Internship, National Service, etc. The proposed efforts in developing a National Employment Policy have been on the table for too long without yielding the desired results. BOSETU does not believe government is treating this matter with the sense of urgency it deserves.
THE 2021/22 BUDGET ALLOCATIONS FOR THE EDUCATION SECTOR
It is worth noting that under the current ministry portfolio arrangements, the education sector in Botswana is currently catered for under three Ministries and these being; Ministry of Basic Education (MOBE), Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology (MOTE) and Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development (MELSD). This observation of the budget allocations by BOSETU would cover all the above ministry portfolios. It is as well worth stating that this review was broadened to include historical data with respect to budgetary provisions, across these three Ministries for the period, 2018-2019 to 2021-2022.
It is important to point out that in line with current ministry portfolio responsibilities, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, though not part of the education sector as such, has a role to play in the delivery of basic education. This is due to the dual management of education dispensation which is in place. They do so through the provision of the necessary primary schools infrastructure (buildings, furniture), feeding, teaching and learning materials, transport and equipment. This is the reason why this review would keep on referring to the said ministry.
THE RECURRENT BUDGET: TREND ANALYSIS
The table below shows the trend of the education sector recurrent budget allocations per ministry portfolios;
|MOBE||P7.97 billion||P8.24 billion||P9.01 billion||P9.52 billion|
|MOTE||P4.75 billion||P4.54 billion||P4.89 billion||P4.60 billion|
It can be seen from the recurrent budget trend analysis described above that the only Ministry in the education sector that will have an increase in the recurrent budget is MOBE. The proposed budgetary provisions for MOTE and MELSD meanwhile reflect a reduction in comparison to the 2020-21 allocation. The reasons that informed this move will probably be enunciated upon at the Committee of Supply stage.
The rationale for the proposed increase in the MOBE recurrent budget has been articulated as follows:
…. the Ministry of Basic Education has been allocated the largest share of 18.8 percent of the proposed ministerial recurrent budget amounting to P9.52 billion. The amount represents a growth of P510.84 million or 5.7 percent over the current year’s approved budget. The growth mainly comprise the budgetary provision for creation of a total of 1,751 positions of teachers to align with COVID-19 protocols in terms of reducing class size and social distancing in schools across the country. The proposed budget is mainly driven by personal emoluments for teachers and service charges, especially water and electricity in schools. Other costs associated with schools include provision of food, textbooks, material for practical subjects as well as stationery. (Paragraph 86)
It is evident from above commentary from the budget proposal that the budget has not been crafted to deal with already existing challenges such as the fact that there are not enough textbooks in schools, state of disrepair of facilities, dysfunctional equipment, just to mention a few. In that regard, the budget is insufficient. This, therefore, means that there are no additional funds that have been earmarked for purposes of addressing existing challenges.
The Ministry of Basic Education had reported during the Committee of Supply meeting in 2020 that is had employed 1823 temporary teachers for expanded schools and to relieve teachers who are away on study or maternity leave as well as those on light duty due to ill health. The 2021-22 budget does not seem to cater for the staffing needs of expanded schools. It is fair to conclude that the proposed recurrent budget allocation for MOBE goes nowhere near addressing already existing challenges. As a result, the Ministry is likely to continue to engage temporary teachers, something that is not acceptable. There should have been a deliberate effort to make budgetary provisions to cater for staffing needs of expanded schools.
As already noted with regard to Paragraph 86 of the 2021-22 budget speech already cited, MOBE recurrent budget:
… is mainly driven by personnel emoluments for teachers and service charges, especially water and electricity in schools.
This provides the reality with respect to where funding of basic education is concentrated, a phenomena that has persisted over the years. As a result, there has not been any deliberate shift towards funding education reform initiatives such as the ETTSP, GECAF, Multiple pathways, just to mention a few.
The proposed budget allocation for MOTE also presents a scenario where the focus is on maintaining what is in place. It has been sated that MOTE budget:
… is driven by the tertiary students’ sponsorship programme which entails allowances, tuition fees and medical expenses for Government-sponsored students enrolled in both public and private tertiary institutions. The proposed budget also includes staff and operational costs of tertiary institutions and parastatals under the Ministry. The proposed budget allocation is geared towards providing appropriate education and training to students so that upon completion of their studies they could become active players in the transition of the country to a Knowledge Based Economy. (Paragraph 92)
Overall, the recurrent budget for the three ministries is certainly insufficient and there are no indications that there has been any effort to steer it towards engendering the necessary education reforms.
HOW THE ENVISAGED RIGHT – SIZING OF THE PUBLIC SERVICE IMPACT THE EDUCATION SECTOR
Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union is worried that the education sector would be impacted negatively by the envisaged cost cutting measures, specifically right sizing of the public service. It has been proposed that in order to deal with the high wage bill:
…. Government needs to right-size the public service. Meanwhile, as an effort to reduce the wage bill, Government will abolish 50 percent of vacant positions, in value, as of 1st April, 2021. In this regard, the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) will be expected to review the size of the public service and, during the 2020/21 Financial Year, recommend measures to right size it as part of over-arching public sector reforms. (Paragraph 126)
This proposal on the right sizing of the public in our service in our view, does not augur well for the education sector. It is amazing that the Government is seeking to abolish some of the vacant positions whilst there are still acute shortages in the education sector. It will not be proper to abolish some positions and still continue to engage people on temporary basis. A deliberate effort should be made to address the human resource needs of the sector especially in schools and vocational institutions (brigades) as a matter of urgency.
THE RECURRENT BUDGET: TREND ANALYSIS
|MOBE||P1,081,000,000||P744 million||P724 410 000||P1.61 billion|
|MELSD||P20.5 million||P75 million||P238 million||P110,791,000|
We note that the only significant highlight that can be cited from the 2021-2022 development budget is the decision to move towards digitization at Basic Education level which will extend from Standard 5 to Form 5. It has been stated that:
…digitalisation will also be carried out in schools, through procurement of ICT learning devices for all learners and teachers from Standard 5 to Form 5 level, connectivity to all schools, developing e-learning material, and training teachers and school managers on basic ICT skills. (Paragraph 66)
The budget proposal further posits that:
…. the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) takes the fourth largest share of the proposed Development Budget at P1.61 billion or 10.91 percent in order to drive the transformation of Botswana into a Knowledge Based Economy and deliver on the promise of the 21st century learner. To cater for School Digitization initiatives, MoBE still has to procure devices for ICT based learning for all learners and teachers from standard 5 to Form 5 level; roll out functional connectivity to all schools; develop and source e-Content for schools; train teachers and school managers on basic ICT skills and use of technology on teaching and learning; and outsource educational broadcasting programmes. (Paragraph 113)
Considering the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the move towards school digitization is a welcome development which, if properly implemented, will go a long way towards enhancing both the quality of education as well as enhancing its delivery. Unfortunately, the realization of this ideal might take long to be attained because of poor planning and lack of preparedness of the implementing Ministry, the Ministry of Basic Education (MOBE). MOBE is not prepared and still needs to come up with a comprehensive plan for the implementation of the school digitization initiative. This can be deduced from the Budget Speech, specifically the point that has been raised that:
To cater for School Digitization initiatives, MoBE still has to procure devices for ICT based learning for all learners and teachers from standard 5 to Form 5 level; roll out functional connectivity to all schools; develop and source e-Content for schools; train teachers and school managers on basic ICT skills and use of technology on teaching and learning; and outsource educational broadcasting programmes. (paragraph 113)
It is reasonable to state that MOBE should have long embarked upon capacity building for teachers in order to prepare them for the envisaged transformation.
There is clearly a lack of Government commitment to sector level approach to the education transformation process, in this respect school digitization. This is reflected by the fact that there is no reference to the transformation of teacher education, a function undertaken by the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology. Teacher training institutions need to embrace this in the reforms of teacher education and training. The digitization initiative should have been reflected in the budget as a system level transformation initiative covering basic education, tertiary education and technical and vocational education.
As a word of caution, it should be noted that technology alone cannot guarantee good learning outcomes. More important than training teachers in ICT skills, is ensuring that they have the assessment and pedagogical skills to meet students at their level and to implement the curricula and differentiated learning strategies. This calls for a well-structured and coordinated professional development programme which would need to cut across the three ministries making up the education sector. And resources need to be availed for that.
Furthermore, any move towards utilizing the digital platform to deliver education will of necessity compel the Government to ensure that children have better access to the internet. Every effort should be made to ensure that children from the poorest households and disadvantaged communities will not continue to be left behind. It is also essential that learners are trained on how to use this learning mode. Failure to take these factors into account may result in inequalities in access to quality education. It is unclear how the proposed budget has taken into account these critical factors.
MINISTRY OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT DEVELOPMENT BUDGET
Although not a major highlight, the following development budget proposal for the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development is relevant to the education sector:
… the fifth-largest allocation goes to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, at P1.45 billion or 9.85 percent, is to continue implementation of social protection programmes and village infrastructure projects. The projects under the Ministry include the Primary School Backlog Eradication Programme…. (Paragraph 114)
The primary school backlog eradication programme will assist in dealing with the current congestion problem. Unfortunately, the planned intervention is based on the pre-COVID-19 scenario. The need for more space has since arisen, hence necessitating the revision of the existing plans. The proposed budget has, therefore, been tailored to deal with legacy issues and it does not address the need to decongest schools as dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, it can be said, without any doubt, that the proposed budget allocation is not sufficient to address primary schools infrastructure requirements which are critical for the delivery of quality education
The 2021-22 budget proposal does not provide any hint on how the Government seeks to confront the COVID-19 pandemic at system level. Most of the reference to COVID-19 is with respect to how it has impacted upon the economy, both locally and globally. This omission or gap, therefore, makes it difficult to tell how sectors, including the education sector, are going to be resourced to deal with the pandemic, save for the recruitment of more teachers to assist with the reduction of the class size. This, overall, reflects a lack of creativity on the part of the Government in coming up with a coherent system level strategy upon which sector initiatives or interventions can be anchored as the Nation strives to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the education sector not only through the disruption of the teaching and learning process, but also the overall learning environment which can be summed up as follows:
- Atmosphere of fear and anxiety: This necessitates the development of strong psychosocial support for teachers and students;
- Loss of learning: Not much learning might be taking place. Learning loss or loss of learning will have long term effect on learner performance and their ability to function fully in the knowledge society. In the short-term, some learners might end up progressing to the next grades while they have not been adequately prepared to do so. This is something that has to be taken into account and strategies put in place to deal with this challenge;
- Loss work work-based learning opportunities: For technical and vocational learning, disruptions in work places have made it difficult to implement apprenticeship schemes and work-based learning modes, key elements of a functional and market-responsive technical and vocational system.
The issues mentioned above indicate that it is not business as usual for the education sector. It is doubtful whether the development of the proposed budget, which is clearly more geared towards maintaining the status quo can enable the education sector to effectively deal with negative impact of the pandemic.
There is not much that is new that the proposed budget is offering for the education sector. We can only wait with great anticipation to appreciate how the three ministries, MOBE, MOTE and MELSD are going to strategically utilize the resources that have been allocated to them.