Givology Staff's Blog

Addressing financial barriers to primary education in sub-Saharan Africa

By Brent Harlow
In this installment of my series, which looks at the best available research to discover what programs and policies are most effective at improving education in the developing world, I continue to discuss programs that have been proven to work in schools in sub-Saharan Africa. However, while in my last post I looked at the important role that health-based interventions can play in improving educational outcomes, in this post I focus on programs designed to offset the financial costs of primary schooling, which can be prohibitive for the poorest of the poor in this area of the world.
[b]Cost-- still a barrier to primary education in sub-Saharan Africa[/b]
While significant progress has been made toward the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education, there is still a lot of work to be done in developing areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where net enrollment rates in 2015 were still only 80% (according to the [url=]Millennium Goals Development Report[/url]).
As I discussed in my previous post, Michael Kremer and Edward Miguel have evaluated the impact of deworming treatment on primary school attendance rates in western Kenya, and found it to be an extremely cost-effective way to increase student participation.
However, merely addressing intestinal worms, anemia and other health problems that negatively affect school participation is insufficient as long as the poorest of the poor continue to face financial challenges that keep their participation rates low. Even now, when primary school in most places is "free," there are still other costs (books, uniforms, necessary materials, and some test fees) that make school a financial burden for the poorest families. The result is that many children, especially girls, end up not enrolling or dropping out before completing a full course of primary schooling. (In Kenya, for instance, only about one-third end up finishing a full course of primary schooling.)
Kremer and others have conducted impact studies of different programs designed to offset the cost or create incentives for participation in preschools and primary schools. These studies look at programs providing students with free school uniforms, scholarships for girls, and free school meals.
[b]Child sponsorships[/b]
A study conducted by Devan Evans, Michael Kremer, and Muthoni Ngatia evaluated a child sponsorship program in western Kenya between 2001 and 2004 (1). The NGO International Child Support-Africa (ICS-Africa) connected 1,231 children from 12 primary schools to donors in the Netherlands, who provided funding to cover the cost of their school fees and uniforms. The researchers found a strong positive impact on student school participation, with a reduction in school absenteeism of 6.4 percentage points (43%).
Uniforms cost between US$4.33 and US$7.33 for each girl, and between US$5.40 and US$7.33 for each boy, and the intervention cost is $90.94 per additional year of schooling. While it is not as cost-effective as deworming, it is nonetheless a relatively inexpensive intervention.
[b]Merit-based scholarships for girls[/b]
A second study, conducted by Michael Kremer, Edward Miguel, and Rebecca Thornton, evaluated the Girls' Scholarship Program (GSP), also administered by ICS-Africa, in two rural school districts in Kenya from 2001 to 2003 (2). The program awarded merit-based scholarships to sixth-grade girls (who continue to have less access than boys to a full course of primary education) from 64 schools, which were randomly selected from a set of 127 schools, who scored in the top 15% on tests administered by the Kenyan government. The winning girls received grants of US$6.40 to cover school fees and US$12.80 for the cost of school supplies.
The researchers found that those students in the treatment group who attended schools in the Busia district, where significant parental involvement in the program was reported, there was a positive impact of 3.2 percentage points on school participation, which corresponds to about a one-quarter reduction in school absenteeism. Among the treatment schools in the Busia district, there was great improvement in girls' test scores, as well as positive externalities on test performance for all students in these schools, boys included.
[b]School meals program [/b]
In a third study, Michael Kremer and Christel Vermeersch partnered with ICS to evaluate the effects of a school meals program on school participation (3). ICS funded the provision of a school breakfast consisting of porridge (parents only needed to provide wood to fuel the fire over which the food was cooked) in 25 randomly selected rural preschools in Western Kenya from 2000 to 2002. They found that over the two year evaluation, school participation increased by 8.5 percentage points (31%).
[b]Programs and student sponsorships for Givology donors[/b]
Givology currently partners with various organizations that help to reduce financial barriers to education for students who may otherwise be unable to continue or complete their education.
Escuela Caracol in Guatemala has implemented a successful school lunch program. The program provides two meals per day to the eighty students who attend the school, located in one of the poorest areas of the country where malnutrition can make it difficult for students to learn at school. Givology has partnered with Escuela Caracol to connect donors to this school lunch program, with $3,480 of its $5,000 goal already raised.
The Nanubhai Education Foundation provides scholarships to girls from rural areas of India, so that they can continue their education past the secondary level and continue on to college. The foundation awards scholarships on the basis of both academic merit and financial need, and is currently supporting 94 girls. Givology is partnering with the Nanubhai Education Foundation to help raise money for the program, with $10,384 of the needed $25,000 already raised.
There are also student sponsorships available for Givology donors who wish to support individual students and their families, to cover the cost of tuition, school uniforms, and textbooks, and make it possible for these children to continue and complete their education.
Interested in learning more about these programs and sponsorships? Click on the following links to access more information:
[url=]The Escuela Caracol School Lunch Program[/url]
[url=]The Nanubhai Education Foundation's girl scholarship program[/url]
[url=]Individual student sponsorships[/url]
[b]References [/b]
1. "The Impact of Distributing School Uniforms on Children's Education in Kenya" is available at the Poverty Action Lab website (
2. "Incentives to Learn: A Merit-Based Girls Scholarship Program in Kenya" is available at the Poverty Action Lab website (
3. "School Meals, Educational Achievement, and School Finance in Kenya" is available at the Poverty Action Lab website (


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