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Ghana strives for universal access to primary education by abolishing school fees

©UNICEF Ghana/2010/Williams
Head teacher Adams Abdulai Iddrisu (left) stands with students at Zoozugu Primary School in the Tamale region of northern Ghana, outside a children's creche area built by the community.

NEW YORK, USA, 23 September 2010 – School fees are widely recognized as a major barrier to achieving Millennium Development Goal 2 on universal access to primary education. Adams Abdulai Iddrisu is the head teacher at Zoozugu Primary School in the Tamale region of northern Ghana – one of a few countries that has abolished school fees in recent years. He spoke to UNICEF Radio about how taking away the price tag has helped many students stay in school.

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Mr. Iddrisu recalled that primary school was free when he was growing up in Ghana in the 1960s, with everything from textbooks to pens and notebooks covered by the government. But structural adjustments in the 1980s led to user fees as an alternative to tax-based financing of public services such as education.

Because school fees are prohibitively expensive for many of the most marginalized families, they block poor children’s enrollment and attendance. Many Ghanaian parents could not afford the fees, they kept their children home or put them to work.

Beyond tuition: abolition

In 2005, however, Ghana’s Ministry of Education abolished fees for basic education nationwide and introduced a capitation grant for all basic schools after a successful pilot programme the preceding year.

The government is now providing one meal a day in some poor districts where families may not have enough money to provide their children with breakfast before school. Students in some deprived schools are also receiving important aid in the form of school uniforms.

Mr. Iddrisu said he has gone house to house to find school-age students to be enrolled in his school. He is optimistic that 100 per cent of the children in his community can be reached.

Many still not reached – especially girls

Still, families in Ghana’s rural north often prefer to have their daughters tend cattle rather than attend school, and may leave a daughter in the care of another family member, such as a sister.

Especially in rural areas, many of those eligible for school are still left out. In some cases, their families have not been informed that the school fees are now abolished.

If this situation is to change, said Mr. Iddrisu, parents themselves need education about the importance of schooling for their children, and teachers need more incentives to work in rural areas where there is a great need for qualified educators.

Reaching marginalized children

UNICEF estimates that over 100 million children of primary school age – 52 per cent of them girls – were out of school in 2008. Some 44 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Among them are some of the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable children, who are perhaps most in need of the opportunities that can come with a better education.

Although most poor countries still make parents pay some kinds of fees for their children’s education, Ghana isn’t the only one to try bringing more students into the classroom by reducing fees. Steps to eliminate school fees in Uganda helped primary school enrolment scale up from 2.5 million to 6.5 between 1997 and 2000. Tanzania also saw enrolment grow, from 1.4 million to 3 million, after that country enacted similar measures.


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