|Children complete a year-end final examination at Mamalu Kindergarten et École Fondamentale Mixte (Mamalu Kindergarten and Primary School) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
No child should be excluded from schooling because of a family’s inability to pay. But poverty often imposes tough choices on families and households – choices about how many children to send to school, which children to send to school, and how long they may attend.
The strides made over the last decade to get millions of children into school are nothing short of outstanding. The number of children who are out of school has decreased significantly – from 115 million in 2001 to 67 million in 2009. However, global progress towards universal education has slowed since 2005 and based on current trends, the out-of-school population could increase to 72 million by 2015, which means the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education for all will not be achieved.
School fees often prevent children in developing countries from being able to go to school. Free schooling may be the single most important policy measure that has had a dramatic, transforming impact on school enrolment so far. It unleashes latent demand for education and encourages children from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate. Eliminating school fees is crucial for fulfilling the rights and needs of every girl and boy, including excluded and vulnerable children.
The School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI) was launched in 2005 by UNICEF and the World Bank. It aimed to make a breakthrough in access to quality basic education through support to policies for removing the education cost barriers to households. The initiative seeks to scale up the rate of progress towards universal primary education, support and build on the results of a major enrolment surge in countries that have abolished school fees in primary education, and maintain and enhance quality of education.
Specific objectives include:
• developing an evidence-base on lessons learned;
• providing technical support to countries; and
• enhancing the global and national policy dialogues.
Countries that have taken the bold step to eliminate fees saw a dramatic and sudden surge in enrolment as a result: In Uganda in 1996, primary school enrolment grew from 3.4 million to 5.7 million; and in Kenya in 2003, enrolment increased from 5.9 million to 7.2 million.
School Fee Abolition is gaining considerable momentum worldwide. The Initiative has now grown into a broad partnership with the involvement of other key development partners and constituencies (World Bank, UNICEF, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Food Programme, the Commonwealth Secretariat, civil society and others) as well as research and academic institutions.