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12. Will the poor go to school? Cost sharing in education in Zambia
Summary of a report by Oxfam-Zambia and the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, October 2001

Zambian households pay almost double the amount contributed by the state for primary education. With most Zambians living below the poverty line enrolment and retention rates have suffered since government introduced cost sharing for primary schooling in 1995. Predictably the poorest children – and especially girls – are hardest hit by cost sharing. Research quoted in the report shows that household income closely matches attendance rates and that attendance rates are lowest for households that rely on small-scale farming. Cash is not the only concern, respondents pointed out that they had to weigh the cost of losing the child’s labour on the land and in the home – with care of the sick an escalating burden – against the uncertainty that schooling would translate into improved household income.

12.1 State fails to meet commitments

The state appears to have abandoned its ‘Education for all by 2015’ commitments. Failure to spend that full amounts allocated for education may mean that households are carrying even more of the burden than budgeted expenditure suggests. In 1998 authorised state expenditure on education was K132 billion while households spent k 77 billion. However much of the authorised state expenditure remains unspent each year. In 1997 for example only 3% of the authorised budget for education was spent. The result is that rather than the partnership envisaged in the cost sharing policy, primary education depends largely on community funding in Zambia.

12.2 Counteracting the crisis

The report makes useful recommendations to counteract the crisis of declining access to education. With the focus on universal access to quality primary education the report suggests giving expenditure on primary education the same compulsory status enjoyed by debt servicing in the national budget. As immediate measures it suggests suspending payment of primary school fees and stemming corruption with the dual aim of ensuring that state resources are spent properly and rebuilding donor confidence. Accountable agencies should monitor the inflow and use of resources. The report clearly advocates re-assessing the prioritisation of education spending to realise the basic human right of basic education for all, noting that the state spends K100 on tertiary level learners for every K1 it spends on a primary school learner. The report advocates further research and analysis to go beyond the issue of funding and examine fundamental flaws in the education delivery system. Without doubt this research indicates cost sharing has been ineffective in providing resources for schools and discourages enrolment and retention of pupils – especially the poorest children.

Read the full report at or contact the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection at PO Box 37774, Lusaka, Zambia 10101. Telephone +260 1 290410, fax +260 1 290759

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