Monday, September 9, 2013

A 19-year average public expenditure shows Jammeh spent less on education than Jawara

Education, until recently, has been called the great equalizer in America.  The stunning income gap between the super rich and the rest, some of whom i.e. the super rich, do not possess university degree and increasing numbers inherit their wealth, is beginning to change the perceptions of many that education is not after all the great equalizer it once was. Despite the shift in perception, public education continues to be mandatory and free at the elementary, primary and secondary levels in the U.S.  There are, of course, tuition-paying private schools that compete with public schools.  Education is universally considered the best pathway to success, provided there is guaranteed access for all.  Therefore, it is a highly politically sensitive sector.  It is also a subject that is often demagogued by politicians.  Gambian politicians are no exception, including Jammeh.

When the AFPRC seized power illegally, they set out to correct what they considered, then, to be a rigged education system that favored the rich, the privileged, children of Ministers and senior civil servants. To leave little doubt in the minds of Gambians as to those Jammeh was intending on targeting, they specified his targets as kids whose parents could afford living on Pipeline, Cape Point and Fajara.  The revolution they stumbled into was going to reverse the trend by spending more on public education, build more schools to bring education to the doorsteps of every Gambian child - a laudable objective, indeed, of the revolution.  He was also going to make sure that they poor kids are awarded scholarships too.  Well, he got most of them to Taiwan to study petroleum engineering and IT whether they have the competence and qualification or not.

The revolution then embarked immediately on a massive school construction program.  The construction binge was part of their infrastructure program that put as much money in the pockets of the construction engineers cum supporters of the revolution as in the buildings themselves.   These fly-by-night operators quickly realized that morphing into a building contractor mode was the quickest way to riches.  They landed themselves huge contracts in exchange for political support. These construction and business moguls were to ensure that the urban and peri-urban areas supported the revolution.

The 'brick-and-mortar' program of the APRC as a means of improving the education sector did achieve two things which are important in improving the overall learning environment.  It obviously provided a building and a roof over the heads of children which is certainly better than kids sitting on the ground, under a tree. It also provided more access, thus more children could enrol in school.  But education goes beyond access and school buildings.  Expenditure on the 'software' aspect of primary and secondary education is more important.

The view that continuous teacher training, re-training, certification are more important than the buildings is not a minority view of a ferocious opponent of the dictatorship in Banjul.   It is a universally held view that quality teachers who are highly trained and motivated, adequate supplies, text book, exercise books, chalk, blackboard etc.contribute more to quality education than buildings.  This is more so in developing economies like ours.  The construction binge of the AFPRC came at a huge cost, and at the expense of quality education.

Poor primary and secondary leaving exam results under the A(F)PRC regime is living testimony to the policy deviation from the PPP's 15-Year Education Policy 1988-2003 that emphasised increased expenditure in those things that matter most. Access have increased, especially for girls, but quality has dramatically gone done.  The internal efficiency measures introduced in the budget process to help improve the overall performance of the sector were also quickly abandoned by a regime that was looking for public acceptance by going for highly visible projects that did little to improve the quality of education our children where receiving.

With all the noise of the A(F)PRC propaganda machine generated from 1994, one would have thought that, at least, Yaya Jammeh would be spending more on education than the PPP.  Well, think again.  On a 19-year average, for every Gambian child in school, the PPP government spent an average of D3,200 per child.  For the same 19-year average, the figure for Yaya Jammeh stands at D2,500 per Gambian child, and a sizeable portion of this amount went into the pockets of contractors who built those schools at the height of the AFPRC euphoria.  Jawara, on the other hand, spent D700 more per child than Jammeh during the 19-year period most of which went to teacher training, material resources and textbooks.  Quality, in effect, went up compared to the low quality that exists today in our schools.

As in other sectors, the A(F)PRC propaganda machine misled many in the education sector.  But the fault lies with us, Gambians.   We were either too lazy to delve into the figures or so terrified of and by the dictatorship that we were afraid to challenge their false claims.  The PPP must now toute these figures as evidence that the A(F)PRC is worst than the PPP government not only in education but in just about every other aspect of Gambian life.  In fact, the two should never be mentioned in the same breath.