The Africa Education Watch (Eduwatch), an education policy research and advocacy organisation, has described the practice of governments spending their countries’ limited resources without ensuring efficiency as the major problem affecting the education sector – citing the recent GH¢34.6million spent by the Ministry of Education on past questions (Pasco) as a typical example.
According to its Executive Director, Kofi Asare, spending inefficiencies in the system affect the very core of the education sector – right from enrolment, retention, completion, quality outcomes and procurement, among others; and in the midst of limited resources the little that the country has is not spent efficiently.
“If you go to the Ministry of Education, virtually everything procured is done through a single-source procedure; so, the state is not getting any spending efficiency, bearing in mind that value for money is different from spending efficiency. Spending efficiency means the cost of buying an item could have been much cheaper if one took alternative means of spending the money, thus cost of result attained could have been much lower,” he said.
To buttress his point, he pointed to a report by the African Development Bank in its 2020 Economic Outlook for Africa, which showed that the Africa continent contributes the second-highest in terms of GDP to education, with the European Union (EU) being first; however, when it comes to spending efficiency, the continent is last and 20 percentage points behind the last but one, which is Latin America.
He added that the report recommended that if Africa can improve its efficiency level to that of Latin America, it will be able to increase the percentage of children completing primary school to about 95 percent.
Delving into the statement by the Minister of Education, Dr. Yaw Adutwum, on the floor of Parliament that government spent GH¢33.6million to procure Pasco for 2020/2021 West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) students, Mr. Asare indicated that AEW’s main challenge with the Pasco procurement is the spending inefficiency.
He elaborated that the procedure used to purchase the books – which is single-sourced to Messrs Kingdom Books and Stationery at a unit price of GH¢78 when it could be done at a lesser price through competitive bidding – is very worrying.
Furthermore, he questioned the decision of selection and disagreed with the minister for stating that it was because of the company’s track-record, emphasising that Messrs Kingdom Books is not a publishing firm.
“What makes the matter worse is that Kingdom Books is not a publisher, they have no track-record in the publishing sector – they are just a bookshop. So, the biggest or two biggest publishers in this country should have been given the contract,” he said.
On the issue of West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) not binding and selling books, he indicated that WAEC is funded by government, and therefore, the ministry should have written to WAEC for copyright licence to get access to the marking scheme and make it available to the two biggest publishing companies in the country to produce it for the ministry, instead of going through a third party.
Citing a scenario where government builds a six-unit classroom block for US$50,000 when NGOs do the same for half that amount, he added that this Pasco issue is just a symptom of challenges in the procurement system of the education sector – which commands the biggest chunk of the budget.
There are 4,500 primary schools in the country without junior high schools, and so when you go to deprived communities one completes primary six and has to travel to walk a long distance to attend JHS in a different school, and this accounts for the highest drop-out rate in our basic education system at the basic-six level.
He however emphasised that the practice of providing past questions with answers to students is in the right direction and must be continued, but the procurement procedure should be competently carried out.