It is widely accepted that a well-educated population is a cornerstone of economic prosperity. Australia spends 5.8% of GDP on education, and it ranks mid-point amongst OECD countries on education spending.
With GDP per capita of $31,600, this means that Australia spends $1,800 per capita on education each year.
If Tanzania spent the same proportion of GDP on education it would equate to $41 per capita. It is clear that the poorest countries do not have the resources to run even basic education services, never mind invest in improvements and try to catch up with other countries.
The Tanzanian investment in education has been restricted by huge debt repayment schedules. However, since Tanzania completed the current debt relief program they have received $3 billion in debt relief, according to the World Bank.
Tanzania has used the savings to increase education spending and eliminate school fees for elementary school education. Almost overnight, an estimated 1.6 million kids returned to school. By 2003, 3.1 million children were back in school. The net enrollment ratio has risen from 58.8 percent in 2000 to 88.5 percent in 2003. Tanzania expects to attain universal basic education by 2006.
With debt relief savings in 2002 and 2003, Tanzania built 31,825 classrooms and the number of primary schools increased from 11,608 in 2000 to 12,689 in 2003, a net increase of 1,081 schools. Also in these two years, 17,851 new Grade A teachers were recruited and 9,100 science-teaching kits were supplied. The pass rate in primary school exams rose from 19.3 percent in 1999 to 40.1 percent in 2003. This rate would have been higher if the pass rate standard had not been raised.
The international campaign to raise awareness of the pernicious effect of debt repayments on the poorest countries has been effective in causing First World countries to re-think the ways they help the poorest of the poor.
Just as the very poorest people in society have no means to repay loans, so the very poorest countries do not have the means to repay loans.
It is great to see that the Tanzanian government is able to invest more in schools. But on an ongoing basis, the country still has only $700 per capita as a tax base to fund essential services.
With economic growth running at 6%, this may grow to around $742 next year giving the government $43 per capita for education (at 5.8% – the same proportion Australia spends on education).
It will be generations before the Tanzanian economy has grown enough to fund basic education and in the meantime it is clear that at this stage on its upward climb out of poverty, your contribution is essential.