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Moving towards universal primary education in Papua New Guinea - A roundtable discussion on school fees

Students in Papua New Guinea
© UNICEF/Papua New Guinea

Port Moresby, 14 February 2007

A  landmark roundtable discussion on school fees, chaired by the Secretary for Education and opened today, is expected to map out a common strategy to achieve Universal Primary Education in the country.

Many of the primary school age children in Papua New Guinea are out of school and half of those who do enroll drop out before grade six.  The large majority are girls. In a country where an estimated 40 per cent of the population lives on less than a US $1 a day, for many children, the cost of going to school remains one of the biggest barriers to enrolling and completing their primary education.

The Department of Education, with support from UNICEF, has called for this high level forum to build consensus amongst a wide array of development partners on how best to eliminate school fees.  The two day meeting will look at the impact of schools fees, identify the process of how best to abolish them, and identify what financial and technical support will be needed to make it possible.

Although the country spends 17.5 per cent of its public expenditure on education, higher than the regional average, it is still not enough to ensure a quality education for all its children.   The Government is still not able to meet many of the recurrent costs in education, like teacher training, printing of text books, and school infrastructure and maintenance costs. 

According to a World Bank study on Public Expenditure and Service Delivery fees collected by schools account for approximately 9 per cent of the primary education budget.  The 2001 total budget of primary education was K325 million (approx $110 million) or K425 ($145) per student, of which parents contribute K 40 ($14).  These fees, collected at school, although an important contribution to the schools operating costs, remain prohibitively expensive for many poor families who simply cannot afford to send their children to school.  

School fees combined with poor infrastructure, a shortage of teaching materials, and trained teachers, especially in remote areas have contributed to the country’s very low enrolment rates.  In addition, many parents are still to understand the intrinsic value of education and often do not see the benefit of sending their children to school. Girls are at particular disadvantage and often the first to miss out.

Papua New Guinea has ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which gives every child has the right to an education.  The Government also committed to the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals which seeks to ensure universal primary education by 2015.

In other countries, like Kenya and Uganda, where school fees have been abolished, school enrolment has consequently skyrocketed.  The challenge is to ensure that adequate resources reach schools and address issues related to quality, equity, and management. According to the School Fee Abolition Initiative, a number of steps should be taken to ensure the successful transition to abolishing fees.  These include putting in place a sound policy framework, strengthening education governance and decentralized structures to ensure a proper flow of resources to schools, especially in remote areas and to ensure adequate financing.

It is hoped that the Roundtable discussion will initiate a speedy process to abolish school fees and ensure every child’s right to education in the country is met.  Those taking part include the National and Provincial Education Departments, Department of Finance and Planning, Catholic Education Secretariat, National Research Institute, Teacher Training Institute, National Economic & Fiscal Commission, Lutheran Education, the European Union, AusAID, NZ Aid, World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO.


For further information please contact: Mitsue Uemura, Education Project Officer, UNICEF Papua New Guinea, E mail:



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