Reaching the Poor: The 'cost' of sending children to school: a six country comparative study

Case Studies & Research
UK. Department for International Development, DFID
144 p.

This comparative research study focuses on the main barriers to education for the poorest households in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Although the study set out primarily to look at the burden of education costs on the poorest households very rich data on other barriers to education (e.g. physical access, quality of education, vulnerability, poverty, and health) have been gathered and are discussed. The study looks at what motivates parents to send their children to school (and keep them there) through their perceptions of the quality and value of education. Illuminating views concerning the barriers, the quality and value of education from out of school children and children in school are also presented.The study shows that for all groups in our sample (the poorest and slightly better off) the costs (monetary and non-monetary) of education are a great burden on the households and act as a significant barrier to education. There are a plethora of charges associated with schooling (direct and indirect). Even where education is nominally free, charges at schools are often levied under another name - development funds, contributions etc. The extent of the burden of costs is obvious when spending on education as a proportion of discretionary household expenditure is looked at. In Uganda and Zambia the proportion is 33%, Bangladesh 32%, and Nepal 17%. Where optional policies operate - e.g. school uniform not being mandatory - peer pressure or unpublished school policies may add to the burdens of costs for poor families. In Uganda and Zambia a substantial part of reported costs were for uniforms - these are not compulsory, but many schools still insist on them. For the poorest households the indirect costs are also considerable, with seasonal variations relating to the demand for labour. This seasonal cycle of opportunity costs impact on attendance patterns, which in turn influence permanent premature removal from school.One of the clearest threads running through the reports of all study countries is the strong sense that the poorest income groups are making very sophisticated choices about schooling their children. These choices are based on assessments of the quality of education available, value for money, and investment potential. While there is often a tendency to dismiss the poorest as either blind followers or recalcitrant laggards, (an often quoted phrase being the poorest are "unaware of the importance of education"), our study indicates that neither stereotype is appropriate. There is a notable willingness amongst the poorest to pay (though ability is often limited or non-existent), and to make sacrifices for, what they perceive to be good quality education.However, the study brings no surprises when it reveals that teachers, parents and pupils all have different views on what constitutes quality in schooling. Quality is seen predominantly by parents in terms of the availability and competencies of teachers. From the perspective of the children, the issue of quality is intimately related to violence in school - for boys, largely corporal punishment, for girls, mainly sexual harassment.

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