July 15, 2015

Education Spending in Africa by Country

The latest UN statistics continue to highlight one of the major reasons for Africa's failure to compete in the global economy: a poorly educated population arising from a failure of African governments to focus resources on this sector. Whilst a few countries spend in excess of  $500 per child per annum, many of Africa's laggards have been spending only between $30 - $40 per child per annum. South Africa, at $1522 in 2012 easily outstrips all other nations in Africa in education spending. The DRC in 2010 spent just $12 per child on education. This huge gap, magnified further when compared to advanced Western countries, renders much of Africa's workforce, now and for some time to come, uncompetitive compared to the rest of the world.

In earlier times one could argue that much of the disparity between Africa and the rest of the world reflected differences in wage rates rather than a real difference in the quality of education. In other words in those days whereas a teacher in the UK might have been earning $1000 per month, a teacher of the same quality in Africa might have been earning $100, say. They were both delivering the same quality of education to their pupils, but the UK government was spending 10 times more for it than their African counterparts. Today this arguement is trumped by the global village. The teacher in Africa is motivated by the same needs and desires as the teacher in the US or UK. He has satellite pictures beamed into his  home showing how his counterparts in the West live. He has friends and relations who have travelled to and worked in all parts of the globe. He is bombarded by a continuing stream of commercial enticements as he goes about his daily routine. He sees others in his community, even former pupils, building nice houses and riding in luxury cars. Private education, primary, secondary and tertiary, has flourished, bringing riches to many within it and enticing teachers within the public school system. These conditions existed to a far smaller extent thirty or forty years ago. In those days many teachers would be content with the prestige of their profession, the opportunity for modest promotion and a dignified retirement. For this, they would give of their best. Not so today.

Government Spernding per Student, Constant US$

Sierra Leone
Source: Unesco Institute of Statistics   ---- means figures not available

African countries have reacted differently to the changing times. Some high income countries, such as South Africa have maintained relatively high spending on education. Other countries, even though not high earners, have prioritized education and have spent a high percentage of their budget on it. In this way they have been able to maintain relatively high absolute spending. The worst performing countries not only have low incomes, but have chosen to spend a low percentage of their budget on education.

In anglophone West Africa, our conclusions are unchanged from the last time we analyzed education spending. Then, we compared education spending per country as a percentage of government expenditure. Here, we compare absolute education spending in constant dollars. Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia are the member states of the West African Examinations Council, WAEC. Their pupils sit a common school leaving examination, the WASSCE, at the end of their secondary education. The WASSCE is a crucial output indicator for anglophone West African education, as it is the only common, standardized examination taken on a large scale by candidates from all the countries.

The WASSCE is a crucial output indicator. Government spending on education is a crucial input indicator. There are no figures for Nigeria or Liberia from UNESCO. At $368 in 2011, Ghana spent  nearly TEN times as much per pupil as Sierra Leone, which is close to the bottom of the education spenders in Africa. Gambia, not normally thought of as an education powerhouse, managed to boost its education spending from just $28 per child in 2007 to $92 per child in 2012.

View the complete table for Africa here.