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Lessons learned: African countries share experiences with abolition of school fees

As part of Kenya’s ‘Let’s Go to School’ campaign, two girls in Ruthimitu Primary School, Nairobi, complete a survey from an interview with a child who does not attend school.

NEW YORK, USA , 5 April 2006 – School fees are keeping the most vulnerable children out classrooms across the developing world. In countries where conflict, drought, famine and the HIV pandemic prevail, school fees hit these children the hardest. They need the safe environment, routine and services that schools can provide. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, school fees typically consume nearly a quarter of a poor family’s income. To help level the playing field so more children can attend school, some countries – including Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Ghana – have abolished school fees and begun to share their experiences with other governments considering a similar move.
For three days beginning today, high-level education officials from countries that have already eliminated school fees are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya with representatives of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (both of which recently agreed to do away with fees), and a delegation from Haiti (which is considering reforms). UNICEF, the World Bank, USAID and other partner organizations are participating in the meeting alongside donors, NGOs and academics, all under the aegis of the School Fee Abolition Initiative. 

© UNICEF/HQ04-0338/Furrer
Jackline Wangari, 11, attends a special class for students who are being trained to conduct a survey of children in their Nairobi, Kenya neighbourhood who do not attend school.

Breakthrough in access to education

“Many countries have already been through the challenging process of abolishing school fees, and dealing with the consequences,” said UNICEF’s Chief of Education, Dr. Cream Wright. “We are now bringing together these pioneers to share their experiences on a path that looks more promising than ever.”

The partners coming together in Nairobi plan to develop a guide for countries that seek to make a breakthrough in access to basic education by abolishing school fees. The goal is to help these countries develop education systems that are inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

“This meeting promises to be an important step forward for the movement that is taking shape globally, and country by country, to provide a quantum leap in school enrolment,” said Dr. Wright. He added that effort would bring the world closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

But with 115 million primary school-age children out of school worldwide, progress toward that target is currently stalled. “The increasing numbers of orphans and vulnerable children, including those affected by HIV/AIDS or trapped in domestic labour, makes it imperative to abolish fees,” noted Dr. Wright.

‘From promises to results’

Although experience shows a huge rise in the number of children enrolling in school when a country moves to free schooling, this same surge has been seen to disrupt teaching quality and bring immense challenges to the entire learning infrastructure – from the physical buildings to class sizes, education materials and schools’ hygiene facilities (where they exist at all).

To address these challenges and deliver on the global promise of universal primary education within the next decade, education programmes will need to accelerate and significantly scale up. “There is momentum gathering around bold initiatives, and the abolition of school fees is one measure that is now firmly on the global development agenda, acting as a rallying point for partners,” said Dr. Wright.

The School Fee Abolition Initiative, launched in 2005 by UNICEF and the World Bank, brings together a broad range of partners to implement that agenda in two ways:

First, to review, analyze and harness knowledge and experience pertaining to the impact of school fee abolition and how countries cope with the fallout from increased educational access
Then, to use this knowledge and experience as the basis for providing guidance and support to other countries planning on abolishing school fees.
The initiative also aims to help vulnerable children who are at risk of being denied access to quality basic education through completion of the primary grades.

“We need to move from words to deeds, from promises to results,” asserted Dr. Wright.  “The promises of school fee abolition should no longer elude so many countries that are willing to embark on such a bold initiative.”



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The Director of Basic Education at Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Mary Njoroge, discusses key successes and challenges related to the abolition of school fees in her country.

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Kenya’s Education Secretary, George I. Godia, emphasizes the need for community involvement in the process of abolishing school fees.

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