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School Fees for Africa: Coming to grips with an elusive promise

Experts, old hands roll up sleeves to take on school fees for a breakthrough in education

NAIROBI, 4 April 2006 – UNICEF, the World Bank, USAID and a range of partners are developing a “How-To” Guide for countries seeking a breakthrough in universal basic education by abolishing school fees. Drawing on the experience of African countries that have eliminated school fees, the goal is to help countries develop education systems that are inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

“School fees are keeping children out of the classroom, and many of these are the most vulnerable children in our societies,” said Dr. Cream Wright, UNICEF Education Chief. “Fees consume nearly a quarter of a poor family’s income in Sub-Saharan Africa, paying not only for tuition, but also indirect fees such as PTA and community contributions, textbook fees, compulsory uniforms and other charges. The increasing numbers of orphans and vulnerable children, including those affected by HIV/AIDS or trapped in domestic labour, makes it imperative to abolish fees.”

Clearly, eliminating fees leads to a surge in enrolment: In Tanzania in 2001, primary school enrolment grew by 50%, from 4.4 million in 2002 to 6.6 million in 2003. In Kenya in 2003, enrolment grew from 6 million to 7.2 million in a matter of weeks.

On April 5, high-level education officials from countries that have abolished fees— Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Ghana—are meeting in Nairobi to share their experiences with representatives of Burundi, and Democratic Republic of the Congo— both of which have recently agreed to do away with fees. Haiti is considering reforms and is also sending a delegation. Experts from development agencies will participate alongside donors, NGOs and academics.

“Many countries in this region have already been through the challenging process of abolishing school fees, and dealing with the consequences” said Wright. “We are now bringing together these pioneers to share their experiences on a path that looks more promising than ever. This gathering on the School Fee Abolition Initiative promises to be an important step forward for the movement that is taking shape globally and country by country to provide a quantum leap in school enrolment for achieving the MDGs.”

But ending school fees is no magic wand. Experience shows that the surge in enrolment after abolition brings immense challenges to the entire learning infrastructure, from the physical building, to the class size and materials, to the hygiene facilities (if they exist at all) and to the teachers.

With more than 115 million primary school aged children out of school, progress towards the education targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 has stalled, said Wright.

“We cannot tell these children to wait,” he said. “In countries where conflict, drought, famine, and the HIV epidemic prevail, school fees hit children the hardest. These children need the safe environment, routine and services that schools can provide.

To deliver on the global promise made to get all children to have access to and complete quality primary education by 2015, we need to accelerate and significantly scale up progress on education with bold policy measures, Wright said.

“There is momentum gathering around ‘bold’ initiatives, and the abolition of school fees is one measure that is now firmly on the global development agenda, acting as a rallying point for partners,” he said.

At the 2005 UN World Summit in New York, world leaders singled out education as an area where quick impact initiatives would be highly successful. Such ‘bold’ policy measures can help countries to accelerate progress on the MDGs.

“We need to move from words to deeds, from promises to results,” said Wright. “The promises of school fee abolition should no longer elude so many countries that are willing to embark on such a bold initiative.”

Note to Editors:

1) The conference will go from the 5th to the 7th of April.
2) In Oxford, UK on the 11th and 12th of April UNICEF will co-chair a conference on Education and Conflict. UNICEF representatives will be on hand to discuss the impact of conflict on children.
3) The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) is being launched regionally in Dakar on April 11-13. Visit http://www.ungei.org/ to learn more
4) Fresh b-roll will be available illustrating the Kenya school fees story. Visit: www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef

For further information, please contact:

Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, 212 326 7452 e-mail: kdonovan@unicef.org





The Director of Basic Education at Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Mary Njoroge, discusses key successes and challenges related to the abolition of school fees in her country.

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Kenya’s Education Secretary, George I. Godia, emphasizes the need for community involvement in the process of abolishing school fees.

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UNGEI website

The site of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative
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