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Government bets on magical thinking

Can SA afford to keep throwing money into education and health systems that have not shown efficiency in using their allocated budgets?
The average primary school child in SA continues to perform poorly in the Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Image: Shaun Smith, Bloomberg News

South Africans have good reason to be concerned that despite almost half of the national budget being allocated to education and health, these areas have delivered diminishing returns to government and the people they are supposed to benefit.

According to the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, “over the next three years, spending will total R6.3 trillion, with 48% of this amount going towards social grants, education and health”.

It is a fact that spending on education and health is driven by government policies aimed at tackling poverty and attempting to reduce inequality. However, since the advent of democracy, the budget allocations for these areas have outpaced those of all other departments. As is so often the case however, it seems the ‘solution’ of throwing money at a specific problem or, in this case, two problems have not miraculously fixed them.

On education

Firstly, attempts to reform the country’s basic education system – including restructuring the syllabi, introducing new governance strategies and providing funding for education – has not produced positive outcomes in the foundational phases. The average primary school child is still unable to read and continues to perform poorly in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). 

Secondly, at a higher education level, the reorientation of institutional structures and management, as well as broader education system transformation, may have tackled the historical exclusion of black academics and students – but access to higher education remains elusive for many. Most concerning is the disconnect between the qualifications graduate will come to possess and those required by the private sector. How else can we explain the high unemployment rate of university graduates?

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report indicates that skills for the future workforce are negatively impacted by poor education outcomes.

With a global economy that is shaped by technological innovation, the significance of a basic education that is able to produce students who can keep up cannot be overstated.

Furthermore, the 2019 ‘Education at a Glance: Indicators Report’ produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) observes that South Africa spends a larger share of its wealth on the public funding of primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education than most OECD and partner countries.

Despite the high spending, tertiary education attainment remains low, especially among young South Africans aged 20-24 who are neither employed nor in education or training. South Africa has the highest percentage of youth unemployment of all OECD and partner countries – a shameful 48.6%.

On health

It is indisputable that investment in public health post-1994 was essential if the system was to cater for all South Africans. Twenty-five years later, and much like education, spending on health continues to rise with each budget allocation. However, the system is still broken – and worse, many public hospitals have budget deficits and cannot service their debts. The Gauteng Health Department’s inability to pay suppliers on time illustrates one of the failings of the public health system.

For many South Africans the public health system remains their only way to access healthcare, yet despite being free, the system’s inherent operational shortcomings, budgetary shortfalls, poor infrastructure and shortage of workforce has made using public health facilities a nightmare.

I have experienced first-hand the nightmare of having a family member admitted to a public hospital.

On that particular day we arrived at 10am and my sister was only admitted at midnight. She then had to wait for another hour before a bed could be found for her. I left that hospital at 2am. And this experience pales in comparison to those of others.

The point being made here is that poor management, inefficiencies, understaffing and/or overworked staff, and deteriorating and insufficient facilities have reduced South Africa’s public health system to one that is incapable of providing a good service to the people.

Notwithstanding the high budget allocation, it seems the health sector is broken or was never really fixed.

Additionally, the future of public healthcare is uncertain in light of the uncertainty surrounding the regulatory framework of the sector as a whole, including how the National Health Insurance (NHI) will work given the government’s proven inability to manage complex systems.

According to the mid-term budget, the revised model estimates that rolling out an NHI would require an additional R33 billion annually from 2025/26. Although these figures are not actual budget commitments, questions relating to how the plan will be funded must continue to be asked.

Good questions

In the context of the mid-term budget, and against the background of the rising government budget deficit, perhaps it is time for spending on education to be reviewed.

We cannot discount the significant transformation and ability to access education that has taken place since democracy. However, one begins to wonder whether a country that is facing stunted economic growth can sustain the annually increasing education budget that has achieved what a reformed education system should do.

There are many reasons why expectations for better education outcomes exist. An education system reform such as the one South Africa has embarked on since 1994 should bear some fruit – not just for the individual, but for the country’s labour market and, by default, the economy. A skilled workforce is most likely to increase the absorption rate of the labour force including the increasing employment and earnings that are both crucial for economic growth and a country’s competitiveness.

On health, given the small tax base South Africa has, it is unthinkable that government would lay the burden of paying for the NHI on the taxpayer.

Considering the rising government debt and skyrocketing public sector wage bill, can the country afford the NHI?

In his book Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith refers to public works that are for the benefit of society and may therefore need to be financed by contributions from the whole of society.

But for the tax-paying Jane and Joe Citizen in SA, paying for social spending has produced a government that has developed a bad habit of throwing money at education and health and wishing that such actions will fix their systems.

They – we – don’t understand why government keeps repeating this.

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At some stage, any intelligent person will reflect on the status quo and ask if the results justify the money that is spent. We have the highest per capita spending on education, with the worst results to show for it. It does not require superior intellectual capacity or analytical skills to determine that money is not the problem here.

What does require some intellectual capacity though, is the realisation that there is an incentive deficit among the learners, and not a shortage of funding from the government. Children who are brought up in households where the parents take responsibility for themselves and accept accountability for their situation show superior results in education. People from a collectivist or socialist background do not accept accountability because they believe that “accountability lies with the collective”. Socialism incentivises irresponsible behaviour patterns and rewards unaccountability.

We need to correct the sociopolitical system before the education results will improve. Parents who own the title deed to their property are incentivised to take responsibility for that property. They learn new positive behaviour patterns and adopt new beneficial thought processes. Then, after a few generations, the children will excel at school and university.

The root of our problem is that those politicians who determine economic policy are unable to solve the education crisis because they are collectivist and they believe that they can simply throw money at the problem. This collectivist mindset is a gravitational black hole. It will suck in all the money you throw at it and nothing will come out.

Is the public education system in SA the cause of the Dunning-Kruger effect? Or is it the result? OR would you say both? Of course you would!

The truth hurts like Anything wont you say.

Well, I can’t agree with your statement, but you clearly are an example of that phenomenon in action.

Yeah, but you say that about everything. So…

Anything, Everything and Nothing.

@Anything, you may have a point! Perhaps it’s both? Or “nothing”?

Perhaps would “everything” makes you happy? *lol*

You deserve the Cup for the best troll on MW in 2019. I salute you!

Michael, do you have the capacity to read? Everything you say is just so inane. Clearly a SA public schooling victim.

…indeed, I’m also a victim of Graduate Economic/Accounting studies at varsity, plus a victim of a Post Grad qualification in Tax Law.

I are baboon.

(You must’ve passed ‘Trolling’ as a subject with a distinction at Std 6?)

Put more simply, give everyone the average mark and a) noone does much work and b) the average mark plummets.

The problem in education is that the customer is the unions and not the learners in the system.

Wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same were not true for health. Just no performance measures are in force.

A while back I had a fairly some procedure carried out at JHB gen. I was told there was a 6 week waiting list. When I paid towards the procedure (a pittance) I got it in 2 days. When it was over, I asked the doc how many of these he did that day. He said just me.

Compare this to surgeons in private practice who do up to 20 ops in a day. And then understand how the free enterprise system delivers and the public monopoly does not and never will.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in that first sentence and you should expand on it. The teachers’ union has certainly gone out of its way over the years to frustrate any improvement in standards.

The R1bn paid out in error for student grants is not such magical thinking

I haven’t met anyone in Government who went to Hogwarts.

The reality is that people will migrate to those areas where the basic requirements of “the possibility” of a job , access to schooling , and a local clinic still exist. Hence the influx of people to towns in the western cape , Gauteng and other city centres. These areas have become overpopulated and are struggling due to under staffing. The reality also is that NHI is dead in the water, and hopefully will slowely disappear from the political scene

I recall seeing an article published on Moneyweb showing the government’s budget allocation for the previous fiscal period.
If memory serves me correct +R150 Billion was allocated to social grants while half of that amount went to education and health!
So more importantly can government afford to keep throwing money into a system that promotes unemployment, i.e. social grants??
This should be the more pertinent question.

‘Promotes unemployment’. What a childishly simplistic view.

So in your opinion what does throwing money at social grants then promote? Do you honestly believe throwing money into this system is far more important than providing more funding for education?
If that’s your view then it is pretty short sighted especially for the longevity and future of SA…

There is plenty money effectively spent on education. Did you actually read the article? Do you have the ability to read it?

Clearly all that educational funding missed you because I was not saying anything to make you think that I “believe throwing money into this system is far more important than providing more funding for education”.

Clearly you don’t have the ability to read as you never answered my question.
Did you read the article? They’ve spent more than double on social grants than on education. This is the point D****ss.

Anything never reads the articles here. He just trolls his day away.

Go you good thing.

I didn’t answer your question as it was completely irrelevant. And you jumped to a conclusion that was completely illogical. People that speak your language do it all the time. It is kind of an language thing. This is why you aren’t taken seriously.

“He points out that my welfare proposal is out of touch with reality. This must mean he is against education.”. Stick to growing maize please.

Anything, your understanding of the English language leaves a lot to be desired (in simple terms which you may understand ‘poor’).
How can my question be completely irrelevant after YOU made a statement that it was childish? I simply asked what you then believe throwing money at social grants then promotes, which you have yet to answer (remember this was prompted after your childish remark).
Secondly, if you had any understanding of the English language, I certainly did not ‘jump’ to any conclusions. Refer ‘If that’s your view’ – you have not given your view, although undertones to your remarks like ‘people that speak your language’ may be interpreted as being racist.
If you need any help removing that chip off your shoulder let me know. I’m sure many will assist.

Sorry – but that is such a stupid question. Defending the undefendable by trying to pretend I am against education. Trying to change my statement into something else that you can defend is just weak. “Hmmm, let me pretend he said education spending is baaaad. This will let me save face”.

People that speak certain language have a tendency of doing this all the time. It is why they are no longer taken seriously in public discourse. e.g. point out an obvious flaw in a private health care company’s financials/strategy. “You must can like to be a NHI proponent hay. You must can like to work for the department of health hey”.

PS, as much as you love being a victim, your language is a not a race. Don’t include us with you please. You are on your own.

A language is now a race. Deflection?

Forgotten to take your tablets lately?

I must have touched a nerve…

Was it not RW Johnson in his book (How Long Will SA Survive) that stated part of the blame must be laid at the teachers union, SADTU.

A union that is supposed to act in the best interest of school kids’ future. But NO…it’s members are prime.
(….if I can recall, many times the union displayed a “Do not discipline us!” attitude.)

Well, the union wins.
Quality teaching loses.

“throwing money into education and health systems that have not shown efficiency”. This is just a throwaway parody. Reality is throwing money into the greedy jaws of ANC cadres and tenderpreneurs in the system. Crooked and/or incompetent to a man, or woman; top to bottom.

Zim, for all its many flaws, produced and continues to be produce (against much bigger odds than here) highly educated, eloquent people. I wonder if it is the system there, the raw material that goes into that system at 5 or 6 years of age, or both?

‘eloquent’. How easily you are tricked into believing someone is intelligent or even well educated.

Good language is a function of a good education – I refer you to one J Zuma

Are private schhols and hospitals providing better results because of funding, or because teachers/management can be held accountable, or the home environment? I suspect that removing weak/unwilling educators, plus a reasonable home environment are huge drivers of success. I have no answer for fixing home environments, that is too complex a situation for a simple fix. Perhaps boarding schools in a safer environment?

End of comments.



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