School & District Management

Elimination of School Fees Drives Student Enrollment

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 07, 2006 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School days in Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and several other nations in sub-Saharan Africa are now just that for more children than ever before. Millions who, in the past, were more likely to stay home or go out to work than sit in a classroom—especially girls and poor youngsters—now are crowding into government schools.

What’s changed is that expenses that historically have hindered access to education—tuition, textbooks, transportation, uniforms, and other costs—have been reduced or eliminated.

About 21 million fewer school-age children worldwide were out of school in 2004 than just five years earlier, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, which released its annual education report last month. Many of the new students enrolled after a number of countries, primarily in Africa, instituted free education, according to UNESCO’s “2007 Global Monitoring Report.”

Despite the progress, many more children—a majority of them girls—still do not have access to education, the report says. UNESCO and other international organizations launched a new initiative last year to wipe out school fees as a way to help more countries meet the goal of universal primary education by 2015.

“The good news is that there is very rapid progress indeed in getting children into the first year of primary school, both girls and boys, … and the most rapid progress has been made in the countries that are the furthest away from the goal of universal primary education,” Nicholas Burnett, an economist who has overseen the UNESCO report for more than a decade, said in an interview. “The not-so-good news,” he added, “is that those who are starting school are still not all finishing school. Indeed, some 77 million children of primary school age are not in school at all.”

Classrooms Full

Successful efforts to raise enrollments in several countries over the past five years, and the recent campaign by international-aid organizations, have led to a number of initiatives to provide free primary education in the developing world. A surge in enrollment soon followed.

In Burundi, which instituted free primary education when the school year began last month, teachers are holding classes in tents to serve the additional students. In Uganda, where school fees were eliminated five years ago, more than 150 students are squeezed into some classrooms as the country works to build more schools and recruit enough teachers. And in Kenya, where the free-primary-school initiative was introduced in 2003 and there is no age limit on students entering the 1st grade, adults and young children alike pack schools that had long been effectively closed to the poor.

“It’s just amazing that every school you go to is just chock-full,” said Susan Nkinyangi, a senior education adviser to UNESCO in Nairobi, where she oversees development projects in Kenya and several neighboring countries.

Fees and Enrollments

SOURCES: UNESCO; World Bank

BRIC ARCHIVE

School fees are common throughout the developing world, providing a funding pipeline for education in places where government revenue sources are limited. A 2001 report by the World Bank found that of 79 developing countries surveyed, nearly all imposed some kind of fees, a third of them “unofficial” or illegal. Most countries in East Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East collect such fees. Removal of school fees has meant more students per classroom, and the need for more facilities, teachers, and materials.

A year after fees were abolished in Kenya, for example, most students were taught in primitive facilities. Three or four students had to share each textbook. Many teachers were assigned classes with 100 students or more.

Kenya and other countries face teacher shortages as a result, at a time when the pool of qualified educators is inadequate.

The reduction in fees collected by governments, however, means less revenue for the very expenses and improvements the policies trigger. The campaign to remove such fees, according to international-aid groups, cannot succeed without additional short-term aid from the United States and other industrialized countries.

“If richer countries come to the rescue for the short term, not only can you get millions more children to school, it can trigger a quality change at the same time,” said Cream Wright, the chief of the education section for UNICEF.

But most of the countries that pledged to help make the Education for All goal a reality across the globe, have not contributed enough, experts say.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom pledged $15 billion over the next decade. The United States contributes some $300 million a year in development aid for basic education, and another $64 million for school-fee-abolishment programs was added this year. While that amount accounts for a large proportion of all the aid offered by industrialized countries, it is far short of the $2.5 billion experts say is needed from the United States to help meet the universal education goal.

UNESCO estimates that plans for providing universal primary education worldwide will take up to $10 billion a year by 2008.

Sustaining fee-free systems has proved challenging even in countries with a long history of universal education.

Botswana reinstituted school fees earlier this year, after nearly two decades without them, to help pay for the growing cost of social services. The fees, about $75 per student, are expected to cut school enrollments in a country where unemployment has climbed to 24 percent.

Rising Expectations

Regardless of the consequences stemming from the removal of school fees, experts say such initiatives are worth the short-term frustrations.

“It’s better to have [children] in school than out of school even if you can’t guarantee high-quality education right away,” said Patrick Fine, the director of the Global Education Center at the Washington-based Academy for Educational Development.

“No one wants to go back to the way it was before,” said UNESCO’s Ms. Nkinyangi.

In fact, she added, the elimination of school fees has raised expectations as parents demand more and better opportunities for their children. While more children are entering school in many countries, for example, retention and completion rates have not improved—indicators that have garnered increasing attention in many places. And free preschool is now among the demands of parents in several countries.

“You can’t say that a child who finishes primary school is ready for the world of work,” Ms. Nkinyangi said. “So now, countries start looking at 12 years of basic education and how they can make it accessible and affordable.”

As expectations rise, government officials are being forced to focus on school quality as well, according to UNICEF’s Mr. Wright.

“When the system is falling apart, you have to start asking serious questions, … questions that go to the heart of quality education,” he said. “Like anything else, when you have a crisis, you take action.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week as Elimination of School Fees Drives Student Enrollment

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How Principals Use the Lunch Hour to Target Student Apathy
School leaders want to trigger the connection between good food, fun, and rewards.
5 min read
Lunch hour at the St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West in Albertville, Minn.
Students share a laugh together during lunch hour at the St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West in Albertville, Minn.
Courtesy of Lynn Jennissen
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Sponsor
Insights from the 15 Superintendents Shaping the Future
The 2023-2024 school year represents a critical inflection point for K-12 education in the United States. With the expiration of ESSER funds on the horizon and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into teaching and learning processes, educators and administrators face a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
Content provided by Paper
Headshots of 15 superintendents that Philip Cutler interviewed
Image provided by Paper
School & District Management Opinion Teachers and Students Need Support. 5 Ways Administrators Can Help
In the simplest terms, administrators advise, be present by both listening carefully and being accessible electronically and by phone.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion When Women Hold Each Other Back: A Call to Action for Female Principals
With so many barriers already facing women seeking administrative roles, we should not be dimming each other’s lights.
Crystal Thorpe
4 min read
A mean female leader with crossed arms stands in front of a group of people.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva