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Gender Parity and Primary Education: Number 2, April 2005 View All Reports >

In Kenya it worked. So too in Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. In each of these countries removing school fees and declaring a government commitment to free, universal primary education has resulted in a massive upsurge of new recruits to school.

School fees: A real burden on poor families

There is no longer any debate about the negative impact of school fees on the likelihood of a child attending school: It is absolutely clear that poor families are deterred by educational costs and that many more of their children will go to school if those costs are eliminated.

Of 79 developing countries surveyed by the World Bank, only Algeria and Uruguay had no fees of any description. Eight countries had a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or community charge, while the 71 others had a range of different kinds of fees - for uniforms and textbooks, for example, as well as for tuition.

The burden of such fees on poor households is significant. School fees account for 16 per cent of spending on items other than food in Zambia, and 12 per cent to 18 per cent in Ghana(1). The poorer the family, the greater the burden. In Kyrgyzstan poor households spend 17 per cent of their consumption on education while the better-off spend 13 per cent (2).

Heads of State, education ministers, and leaders and high-level officials of international agencies and non-governmental organizations at the fourth meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All (Brasilia, November 2004) urged governments to work together with development partners to abolish school fees and reduce other costs of education to poor and working children, particularly girls. The call reflects the urgent need to step up efforts in support of the gender goals in education.

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