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Base de datos de evaluación

Evaluation report

Global 1997: Cost and Financing of Primary Education

Author: Mehrotra, S.; Vandemoortele, J. ; UNICEF NYHQ

Executive summary


Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the gross enrolment ratio at the primary level declined in the eighties. In the nineties there has been only a slight improvement Several factors contributed to this decline. One reason is that the primary school population has grown twice as fast as in Asia and Latin America. At the same time, per capita public expenditure on education was halved over the decade, whilst it increased in other regions. Combined with falling teacher salaries, the quality declined and costs to parents increased. Falling incomes forced parents to consider carefully the costs of the income foregone when children go to school rather than work. To make matters worse, the slow growth in employment and the decline in real wages have meant that many parents no longer perceive education as a guarantee to escape poverty by obtaining a job in the formal sector.

Purpose / Objective

This paper presents options for improving cost effectiveness and for mobilizing additional resources for primary education in the region. Given the low enrolment ratio, the costs of achieving universal primary education in Sub-Saharan Africa are very substantial, equivalent to an additional allocation of approximately 0.7 per cent of GNP to primary education. This is more than for any other region. Universal primary education will require major reforms to achieve more education for the money (greater cost-effectiveness), and more money for education ( additional finance).


A review of relevant statistical data, academic literature and program documents from a variety of sources was conducted.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Improving cost effectiveness:
Countries with similar enrolment ratios often spend a very different proportion of their GNP on primary education - indicating that very different educational outcomes can be obtained for the same amount of money.

Teachers' salaries, although very low, comprise the major part of the primary education budget. Whilst there is no possibility of lowering teachers' salaries, there may be ways of improving teacher utilization and teacher efficiency. Ways of improving the quality of education through maximizing teacher usage are explored. In addition, combining teacher assistants recruited from the community with teachers has had the advantage of lowering the work load of teachers whilst at the same time providing an important link to the community.

Increasing access to education materials is a critical part of the effort to improve quality and in turn internal efficiency.

Reducing repetition rates is an essential strategy. This includes improving the quality of teaching and learning so that there is no need to fail children. Countries which have achieved full primary education generally have an automatic promotion policy. Separating the primary leaving examination from the secondary entrance examination is another important way of eliminating wastage.

Teachers are central to the task of improving quality and learning achieving. Raising the entry level for teacher training to at least four years of secondary education will have the dual advantage of decreasing the cost of teacher training whilst improving the quality of the teacher. The period for teacher training can then be reduced. The unit cost of secondary education is generally much lower than that of teacher training.

Finally, use of expensive designs, standards and imported construction materials increase the cost of school construction and maintenance. Wherever possible local materials should be used. State grants to communities for construction and maintenance could be much more cost-effective than construction by the State. Moreover, community control of construction and maintenance have the added bonus of strengthening the community identification and responsibility for the school that are so essential for school success.

Increasing funds for primary education:
The total resources available for primary education must increase if Universal Primary Education is to be achieved. The re-allocation of funds to education without an increase of Government budget is an option that is possible in many countries where the investment in education is very low. Within the education sector, reallocations in favor of primary education may be appropriate as well. For example, removing State subsidies for non-educational costs such as food, accommodation and transport can free up substantial sums for primary education without damaging the quality of secondary and tertiary education.

However, there is little doubt that total expenditure on education needs to increase in many countries. Donor resources allocated to primary education have been very limited. What little has gone to primary education has been focused on construction. Future donor assistance needs to focus on teachers, including the payment of teachers' salaries and on the provision of educational materials in the classroom. Sub-Saharan Africa spends between $10-13 billion a year on external debt service. By contrast, achieving universal primary education in the region is estimated to cost about $2.4 billion a year over and above current levels of expenditure. Some innovative ways of diverting part of the money for debt servicing through debt swaps for education would be helpful for increasing the investment in children.

Parents already contribute substantially to primary education. One successful policy for lowering costs to parents is to make uniforms not mandatory. On the other hand, cost recovery at the post-primary level can be increased, particularly for construction and for non-essential costs such as boarding costs, provided it is accompanied by an effective safety net for the poor. Income generating activities by pupils which do not interfere with learning have been tried in some countries.

Allowing a diversity of educational providers has been an important way of increasing funding for education. A unified education system with Government supervision of quality can be combined with a diversity of providers, including the private sector, non-governmental organizations and the community.


This paper has presented a menu of options in respect of the financial reforms necessary to address the reasons for the decline in the enrolment ratio witnessed in Africa over the eighties. Given slow economic growth and the need to keep fiscal deficits down, the education budget will remain constrained in most countries. Hence, making more effective utilization of existing resources will be essential. Reducing cycle costs (through reduced repetition and drop-outs) and rationalizing teacher deployment and where possible increasing the teacher-pupil ratio offer the greatest scope for cost savings in many countries. Improving the quality of education through increased teacher effectiveness and greater investment in useful learning materials offer additional cost savings - essentially through reduced repetition and drop-out. Investing in the teacher is the best guarantee of improved learning - by ensuring recruitment of only full secondary school graduates (assisted by lower paid assistants with lower qualifications), up-grading skills through in-service training (onsite in school), and providing the scope for teachers' innovations, so that each school is also a teacher-training center where emphasis is put on teachers' initiative, resourcefulness and ability to train colleagues in new methodologies. Investment in teacher-training, particularly into upgrading the knowledge and skills of practicing teachers, can assist in reducing both repetitions and dropouts, so ensuring a sizeable saving.

Lowering school construction costs by using more appropriate standards and local materials could further reduce costs. In terms of diversifying the sources of funding of primary education, the greatest potential lies with (i) inter-sectoral and intra-sectoral budget restructuring, (ii) targeted taxation, (iii) innovative fundraising initiatives by schools with private enterprises, and (iv) earmarking ODA and debt cancellations, particularly the redirection of interest repayments to primary education through direct budget support.

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