|© UNICEF BENIN/2009/Demeocq|
|In Benin, the 2006 announcement of the abolition of school fees for pre-school and primary education led to crowded classrooms and teacher shortages.|
COTONOU, Benin, 29 June 2009 – Four years after the launch of the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI), 40 representatives from Congo, Mali, Togo and Benin convened a five-day workshop in Cotonou last week to assess the programme’s results and share their experiences.
West and Central Africa, where the participating countries are located, has the lowest average net school enrolment rate of any region in the world.
In Benin, the 2006 announcement of the abolition of school fees for both pre-school and primary education was a cause for celebration. The announcement led to more than 150,000 additional children gaining access to education.
As a result, however, classrooms became crowded, and crucial supplies such as benches, educational materials and school meals were in short supply.
Shortage of teachers
In his opening speech at the SFAI workshop, Benin Minister of Pre-School and Primary Education Félicien Chabi Zacharie asserted that his country is now facing a shortage of teachers, as well as supplies.
“We are currently in need of 6,000 teachers to care for schoolchildren nationwide,” he said.
Benin is not the only country dealing with such challenges. Many African nations are now going through the process of school fee abolition, thus reducing the financial barriers to education. The aim is to encourage equity in access to pre-school and primary school, paving the way for the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 2: universal access to primary education.
The workshop in Cotonou examined possible sustainable models for no-fee schools, including Kenya’s approach, in which schools are responsible for managing their own resources. Kenyan schools open their own bank accounts with funds received from the government and manage all education-related expenses at the school level.
The participating countries also shared their own solutions for handling teacher shortages:
• In Congo, the government plans to hire retired teachers and postpone retirement for hundreds of active educators
• In Mali, 13 new training schools for teachers have opened
• In Benin, the government has decided to train and pay over 10,000 community-based teachers
• In Togo, committees in charge of the management of school manuals have been set up at the national, departmental and local levels
UNICEF and the World Bank jointly launched SFAI in 2005 to provide technical support to countries in planning and implementing school fee abolition policies. However, there are still many challenges to meet.
|© UNICEF BENIN/2009/Gnahoui|
|Officials attend the closing ceremony of the School Fee Abolition Initiative workshop in Benin.|
“Nobody said it is easy, but we cannot allow the challenges to deter us from action,” said UNICEF Education Advisor Dina Craissati. “To the contrary, we are now working with countries not only to plan for the urgent needs arising from fee abolition declarations, but also to use the challenges as opportunities to engage in much-needed system reforms around quality education.”
Last week’s workshop was organized by UNICEF, its West and Central Africa Regional Office and the Benin country office. Strong support came from experts at the World Bank, the Kenyan and Togolese Ministries of Education, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, UNESCO, the International Institute of Educational Planning and all partners involved in the education sector in Benin.