LAS VEGAS — UNICEF and the World Bank partnered together in 2005 to develop the School Fee Abolition Initiative, or SFAI, working toward removing the burden of costly school fees in countries where the majority of citizens live in poverty.
In many cases, school fees represent an insurmountable burden on an already extremely limited income. Families who cannot afford the price tag of sending children to school are often those who can barely feed themselves and surely, eating is more important to survival than reading books. What is more, for many poor families, sending children to school is a luxury that cannot be afforded, for children sometimes are needed to make money for the household.
Yet, it is such circumstances that continue the cycle of poverty- little to no education often results in low wages throughout an individual’s lifetime, thereby reducing their quality of life and so on. However, at the dawn of the Information Age, the resources to stop this cycle short are readily available and so is the knowledge of how every child can have an adequate education. This has spurred the creation of initiatives like SFAI, which has addressed the need for eradicating school fees so that more children have access to an education.
SFAI is the brainchild of UNICEF, the leading international organization for Women and Children, and the World Bank Group. Both organizations recognized the negative affect school fees were having on families with children (especially girls) and since 2005, SFAI has worked with governments to remove these education costs barriers.
According to UNICEF, SFAI has three specific objectives to develop an evidence-base on lessons learned, provide technical support to countries and enhance the global and national policy dialogues. Such measures have been successfully implemented in Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique.
“Free schooling may be the single most important policy measure that has had a dramatic, transforming impact on school enrollment so far. It unleashes latent demand for education and encourages children from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate,” UNICEF said.
In the case of SFAI participating country, Malawi, a spike in enrollment was the result of removing school fees. School enrollment increased by 11 percent and re-entrance of students in the last grade of primary school was up to 81 percent for girls and 73 percent for boys.
Unlike other countries who benefited from SFAI, Malawi took what is called the ‘big bang approach’ to school fee abolition. This means that school fee abolition was implemented with little to no prior planning or organizing, though public awareness campaigns were created after it took effect, undoubtedly to ensure that more students would benefit. Now the re-entrance of last grade students (equivalent to the U.S.’s Grade 5), may seem inconsequential but when students are able to reenter the classroom after being absent, it increases the potential of them entering secondary education and gaining a more comprehensive base of knowledge.
Abolishing School Fees in Africa, a study of SFAI participating countries conducted by the World Bank Group and UNICEF, reveal that not only is policy and political reform necessary for school fee abolition to make a positive impact, but it also contributes greatly to local communities’ involvement in schools.
According to the study, “the empowerment of the community and school not only improves quality and administrative efficiency but also creates a stronger constituency for education.”
While the abolition of school fees is not the cure-all for ensuring each child has an equal footing in their nation’s development, SFAI demonstrates the impact such reforms can have on the framework of an entire nation. School fee abolition seems simple and it is—remove the costs of schooling so that more children can attend. However, it has the potential to shape the livelihoods of individuals from all stratum of society.
– Candice Hughes