Would you pay for your kids' education? In Sweden, a country were even university education is free for EU citizens, it is difficult to understant why parents in much poorer countries must pay for enrolling their kids in school. Yet this has been the case in many countries in the third world.
In the last years, in an effort to fulfill the second UN Millenium Goal - to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, several countries in Africa, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Kenya have dropped fees for primary education.
Michael Fleshman writes in Afrik.com (a longer version is available at Africa Renewal) about two of these countries - Kenya and Malawi, and compares how they tackled the challenge of educating every child. He concludes that while free primary education is a human right, authorities have a lot to learn from old mistakes when they strive to make it a reality.
Malawi dropped fees already in 1994, but failed to allocate sufficient resources for a larger education system. Once education was free, thousands of pupils whose parents previosuly coould not afford the fees flooded the existing school system. As school houses were too few, pupils had to be thought outdoors. Often they had not access to pencils and writing material. Not enough teachers were educated and the pupil-teacher ratio climbed to 70-1. As a result of being unprepared, only 20% of the pupils in Malawi's schools succesfully finish eight years of education.
Kenya, on the other hand, managed to to everything differently when they dropped fees in primary education in 2003. Financial support was secured, and the educational budget increased from $703 mn in school year of 2001/02 to $951 mn in 2003/04, a third of the national budget. As a comparison, Sweden in 2009 paied approximately 6% of the national budget on education. These money funded the immediate needs, as well as a build up of educational resources.
What is maybe even more important is the weight Kenya put on mobilizing support among parents, teachers and administrators. Funds, teachers, school houses and pencils are badly needed, but what really makes difference is the hearts and minds of the individuals within the system. Kids can be thaught under less than perfect circumstances, even outside under trees if necessary, but only in a society eager to educate itself, and with a clear idea how to move forward.