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Teachers' Salaries, Class Sizes at Risk Under Structural Adjustment Policies, ILO Says


Press release | 22 April 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - The ILO warned today that cuts in public spending risk having major implications for education and teachers, particularly in cash-strapped developing countries. A report Endnote1 prepared for a meeting of education experts finds a strong correlation between reductions in overall public spending - which are often the result of structural adjustment policies - and reduced spending on education.

It notes that during the period 1980-90, teachers' salaries in poor countries tended to deteriorate, as did per-pupil expenditure, class size, enrolment rates and the quality and quantity of teaching materials. Teachers generally suffered sharp decreases in real wages relative to wages in the private sector.

Where overall public spending grew in absolute terms, spending on education also grew: teachers in those OECD countries and Asian newly industrializing economies where spending on education increased between 1980-90, generally saw their real incomes rise.

"Given that most countries spend much of their government budgets on schooling and a very high fraction of educational spending goes for teachers' salaries, these cuts in public spending had major implications for education and teachers," the report concludes.

Although structural adjustment policies advocate shifting expenditure from higher to primary levels of education, pressures to reduce overall government spending meant that educational spending was more often simply cut rather than shifted. In addition, growing poverty and income inequality had a negative effect on education as low-income groups increasingly withheld their children from school.

The relationship between educational and total spending repeats itself in nearly all developing countries and across all continents. In Latin America, for example, countries, such as Colombia and Uruguay, that experienced high economic growth generally increased public spending as a percentage of GDP, which led to hikes in educational spending of 5% and 4.3% per annum, respectively. Countries, such as El Salvador, Guyana and Mexico, where economies grew slowly or not at all had zero-to-negative relative public expenditure growth, which translated into decreases in educational expenditure of 7.1%, 7.6% and 2.5% per annum, respectively.

In Africa, countries such as Botswana and Uganda, whose public expenditure as a percent of GDP grew during the last decade, saw education expenditure rise by over 10% per annum; countries such as Sierra Leone and Zaire, which had no or negative public expenditure growth registered a decrease in education expenditure of 12.1% and 10.6% per annum, respectively. The report warns that the combination of rapidly declining GDP and reductions in public spending in Africa have had "a devastating effect on public resources available for education, even at the primary level."

In recent years, most African countries have reduced their spending per pupil at all levels of education, especially for secondary and higher education.

Even as teachers' salaries shrank and resources per pupil were reduced, class sizes increased. It is now common to see teacher-student ratios of 1:45 and above. In African urban areas the ratio is often 1:60 or more, while some schools in Guatemala have reported ratios of 1:100 and in Bangladesh the ratio has deteriorated from the already high levels of 1:54-63, the report finds.

Enrolment rates in the 1980s suffered because of the financial pressure to reduce social spending, the report claims.

Excluding China and India, enrolment growth of primary education in low-income countries decreased from 5.2% annually in 1965-1975 to 2.7% annually in 1980-1985, years that were marked by recession, economic collapse in some countries and the onset of structural adjustment policy effects. Including China and India, the growth in enrolment became virtually stagnant, dropping from 3.1% to 0.6% for the two periods, respectively.

The situation was particularly marked in Africa, where increasing poverty rates appeared to have had a significant effect on drop-out rates. "Financial constraints had a major effect on the expansion of education among the young... The largest single effect was on the school enrolment rate in those African countries which experienced both negative per capita income growth rates and a constant or declining proportion of GDP in public spending," according to the report.

The meeting of education experts will convene 22-26 April at ILO Headquarters in Geneva and bring together government, teachers union and employers representatives. It will look at the nature and scope of structural adjustment-driven educational reforms.


Impact of Structural Adjustment on the Employment and Training of Teachers, ISBN 92-2-109763-3. Sectoral Activities Programme, International Labour Office, Geneva, 1996.