School Fees and Primary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1970-2011
Tinker, Katherine Anne
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Education broadens the life choices and capabilities of those who receive it, and confers external benefits to society as a whole. In sub-Saharan Africa, a major issue concerning school attendance among the poor has been the direct monetary costs represented by primary school “user” fees, which became particularly commonplace in sub-Saharan African countries during the post-colonial period. While fees have been advocated in the past as a way for impoverished governments to fund the improvement and expansion of primary education, in more recent years the position of the international development community has shifted in favour of fee abolition as a means of achieving Universal Primary Education. This thesis examines the long-term relationship between school fees and education quality and access over the past 40 years in seven sub-Saharan African countries. I find that the introduction of fees decreased primary school enrolment, primarily by keeping the poorest children out of school, without achieving significant quality improvements. A fall-off in government spending following the introduction of fees is presented as a possible explanation. I also focus on the quality impacts associated with the major increases in enrolment following fee abolition, and emphasize the importance of government commitment to making up the funding shortfall generated by this policy change.