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The School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI)

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.

School Fees: A Major Barrier to Education Access

School fees are one of the biggest barriers in the expansion of schooling in the poorest countries. Experience in several countries indicates that the private cost of schooling to households prevents children from accessing and completing quality basic education. This is particularly significant in countries where poverty imposes tough choices on families and households about how many children to send to school, which children to send to school, and how long they may attend.

The children who still do not enter school are largely from poor families in rural areas, and particularly girls and the disabled. For these children, the indirect and direct cost of education to families is the single most important factor excluding children from school. And the single most important policy measure to address this is to abolish school fees. There is a powerful ethical as well as development case for ensuring that no child is excluded from school because of inability to pay.
- Birger Fredriksen , Education Expert and Former Senior Adviser at the World Bank

Today 115 million primary school-age children do not have access to education, the vast majority of them girls. Many more are under chronic threat of dropping out of school because of low education quality, discrimination and exclusion—as well as other challenges to development such as poverty, health epidemics and war.

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 progress towards education targets with bold policy measures. World leaders recognized this urgency when they committed at the September 2005 World Summit to “provide immediate support for quick impact initiatives to support anti-malaria efforts, education and health care”.

Free schooling may be the single most important policy measure that has had a dramatic, transforming impact on school enrolment so far. It unleashes latent demand for education and encourages children from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate.

The abolition of school fees however is not a panacea. While cost is a major barrier to enrolment, evidence from country experiences is showing that it alone does not determine the demand for education and that other factors need to be addressed if the gains made are to be consolidated and sustained. These factors range from quality issues to specific measures that ensure the most vulnerable benefit from this policy shift. Among the associated concerns are financial, management and logistical issues, policy dialogue, negotiations and trade-offs involving all stakeholders – from the community to the school, from the district to the national level, and including national and international development partners. A bold policy measure on school fee abolition should be undertaken within a studied and sound path to design country-specific and doable approaches and to ensure long-term sustainability.

© 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.

The School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI): Supporting Countries in the Realization of Universal Access

Launched in 2005 by UNICEF and the World Bank, the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI) is one of the ‘Bold Initiatives’ aiming to make a breakthrough in access to basic education and significantly scaling up progress to meet the MDGs and EFA targets in the next decade. The Initiative has gained considerable momentum through involvement of other key development partners and constituencies.

The goal of this collaborative effort is twofold. First, it is to review, analyze and harness knowledge and experience pertaining to the impact of school fee abolition and how countries cope with the fallout from such a bold policy decision. Second, the goal is to use this knowledge and experience as the basis for providing guidance and support to selected countries as they embark on abolishing school fees.

We realize the role that the School Fee Abolition Initiative can play in boosting enrolment among the poor. It has a special relevance for girls, as they are more adversely affected by poverty. It is especially significant for us, as the Commonwealth is estimated to be housing about two thirds of the world's out-of-school children.
- Jyotsna Jha (Commonwealth Secretariat)

The Nairobi Workshop: An Important Step Forward for the SFAI

Organized by UNICEF and the World Bank, the SFAI Workshop ‘Building on What We Know and Defining Sustained Support’ was held in Nairobi from 5–7 April 2006. The workshop’s objective was to harness experiential knowledge on planning and implementing new policies and to consolidate partnerships for short- and medium-term support to countries that have chosen to abolish school fees. Senior education officials from pioneering countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been through the challenging process of abolishing school fees—Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania—had an opportunity to share their experiences and lessons learned with other government officials considering a similar move—Burundi and DRC, both of which recently decided to do away with fees, and Haiti, which is considering reforms.

The Nairobi Workshop offered a platform to draw on both the country experiential knowledge and on research undertaken by experts on school fee abolition, deepening understanding of how to make this policy work in order to deliver robust results in quality basic education. Participants gathered for three days to discuss the challenges of school fee abolition and to lay out the way forward in terms of engaging countries and mobilizing technical and financial resources. They made important technical contributions to the discussions, pledging their commitment to help countries manage the post-abolition phase more effectively and to work together to advance this important policy agenda.

+ See Highlights of the SFAI Workshop in Nairobi [PDF]


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30 March 2006:
UNICEF’s Chief of Education, Dr. Cream Wright, discusses the joint UNICEF-Oxford University conference on education and conflict.

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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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