Making school fee abolition work in West and Central Africa
Cotonou, Benin, 29 June 2009 - Four years after the launching of the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI), four countries of West and Central Africa assess the situation, and share their experiences. In this region, the average net enrolment rate is the lowest in the world and stands at 60% against 85% at the global level.
40 representatives from Congo, Mali, Togo and Benin convened for a five-day workshop in Cotonou, to “ensure the success of school fees abolition policies”, and maintain the quality of education in a context of huge demand.
In Benin, the announcement of the abolition of school fees in the preschool and primary education cycle in October 2006, was hailed by the entire Nation. More than 150 000 children sprang out from houses and villages to have access to education. Classrooms became crowded and crucial needs for teachers, benches, educative materials as well as school meals loomed out.
In his opening speech, Benin Minister of Pre School and Primary Education, Mr. Félicien Chabi Zacharie, asserted that his country is facing a cruel shortage of teachers. “We are currently in need of 6,000 teachers to care for school children, nationwide”, he underlined.
Benin is not the unique country facing such a situation. Many African countries are now going through the process of school fee abolition thus reducing financial barriers to education that households face. The aim is to encourage equity in the access to pre school and primary education and consequently pave the way for the achievement of MDG 2.
Instructive models stemmed from Kenya where schools are responsible for managing their own resources. They open bank accounts, receive money from the government and ensure all education-related expenses at the school level. Amongst other best practices reported to face “the education boom”, the Government of Congo has decided to hire retired teachers and postpone the retirement period for hundreds of teachers.
In Mali, thirteen Training Schools for teachers were opened throughout 9 regions. In Togo, committees in charge of the management of school manuals were set up at national, departmental, and local levels. In Benin, the Government decided to train and pay over 10 000 community teachers.
UNICEF and the World Bank have jointly launched the School Fee Abolition Initiative SFAI in 2005. The objective is to provide technical support to countries in planning and implementing school fee abolition policies. However, there are still many challenges to meet. They include bridging the teachers gap and addressing issues such as the availability of textbooks, grants for the most vulnerable children, school management, the establishment of partnerships, and the opportunity costs for girls.
UNICEF Education advisor in New York Headquarters, Ms. Dina Craissati, asserted: “Nobody said it is easy. But we cannot allow the challenges to deter us from action. 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 the much needed system reforms around quality education”.
The workshop was organized by UNICEF Headquarters, the West and Central Africa Regional Office and the Benin Country Office. It received a strong support from experts of the World Bank, the Kenya and Togo ministries of Education, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), UNESCO - “Pôle de Dakar”, the International Institute of Educational Planning (IIEP), and all partners involved in the education sector in Benin.
For more information on School Fee Abolition in Africa, download the latest UNICEF/World Bank report Abolishing School Fees in Africa
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