Father Kelly - Education Access and the Abolition of School Fees

Presenting on the importance of education access and the abolition of school fees during the Technical Consultation on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS, London 7-8 February, 2006, Father Michael J Kelly, an educationalist at the forefront of research on the interconnection between education and HIV/AIDS, proposed the novel Millennium Schools Project. This undertaking would be first identify schools serving marginalised children in specific areas (rural, high density township, border towns, and squatter settlements).

Each of these schools should be given every resource required to respond to the educational needs of the community. What is innovative about the idea is that each school will be a multipurpose community development and welfare centre - a health promoting centre for birth registration, immunisation, deworming, distribution of bed-nets, vitamin supplementation, school meals; a community centre for health, agriculture, and social improvements. Teachers would be well respected, trustworthy community leaders who are adequately compensated. The curriculum will be based on the four pillars (learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, learning to be) and relevant to the community and the families of learners.

Stressing the need to accelerate the abolition of school fees and remove other barriers to education, Father Kelly emphasised that education is a basic human right, necessary for personal and socio-economic development. This is critically important for orphans and marginalised children, who have limited access to education. The barriers to abolition are that many fees originate within communities, Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and schools, so it becomes critically important to engage these communities in the process. This should be approached jointly with the establishment of social support mechanisms. It should be considered whether fee abolition should be undertaken in isolation from more comprehensive education reforms that look into the provision of ECD, revisiting the curriculum, expansion of secondary opportunity and improvement of tertiary access and quality. It is important to understand the barriers as to why schools/PTAs impose fees or require uniforms. Responses need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of the country or institution.

Planning is required at the systemic level for finance, policy, management issues and resources. It is important to find ways to access resources and to compensate schools for lost revenues. At the institutional level, planning is required to preserve and improve quality, cope with enrolment surges, ensure meaningful learning, deal with large classes, ensure security at school and to provide water and sanitation.

Governments should develop nationally-owned education reform strategies that will clearly ensure full school participation by every child, including those affected by AIDS (and those with disabilities); broader education reforms within a framework of comprehensive social welfare; harness momentum for abolition of school fees and mobilise political will (in the framework of EFA, FTI, Bold Initiative, etc), with resource-backed commitment to action and legislation backing fee abolition. The explicit support of Heads of State for greater investment in free education needs to be mobilised (as in the Abuja Declaration for health). The lead actors are UNICEF, the World Bank, Education, Finance, and Social Ministries, PTAs and teachers' unions.

National governments (principally education ministries) with civil society and international NGOs need to explore ways of involving, strengthening and cooperating with PTAs and teacher unions. Only by involvement of the PTAs and teacher unions can success be ensured; not involving them almost guarantees the re-emergence of illegal fees.

The knowledge base should be improved by involving national governments,
UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Bank along with local and international NGOs. The information base on the factors (including stigma and opportunity costs) that are preventing the school participation of children affected by AIDS needs to be extended. As does the information base on fees (what is being charged, for what purposes, how children affected by AIDS cope and how this affects access). This momentum needs to be maintained by establishing representative free basic education groups to maintain the pressure and interest. These groups should work together to gather information and serve as watchdogs.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS