Free Secondary Education?

The Tanzanian government has committed to providing secondary education for free starting in 2016, as was reported in Free Secondary School Education Spot On. This will certainly be a popular move by the government, both among donors and the general population. However, it remains to be seen whether secondary education will truly be free. In 2001 the government declared that primary school would be free the following year. While government schools did stop requiring school fees, many schools had (and continue to have) mandatory contributions [The Cost of a ‘Free’ Primary Education in Tanzania]. While contributions are slightly different from fees in that they are not imposed by the government itself (but rather the individual school), in practice they have the same effect – students must fulfill the contributions or risk being barred from classes. Some of these contributions can be physical items (e.g. paper or stools), but often money is collected for a variety of reasons like lunch programs (paying cooks and purchasing cooking oil, salt, etc.), security, and paying per diem to teachers attending conferences. These required contributions continued and were often increased to offset lost revenue from the eliminated school fees. At the secondary level there are even more mandatory contributions; some schools can have a half a dozen or more different funds to which students are required to contribute. As a result, it is not uncommon for mandatory contributions to be greater than the fees at secondary schools. Hopefully the government plans to eliminate both fees and mandatory contributions, otherwise this new initiative will not result in secondary school being affordable to everyone. Furthermore, there is the potential for effectively no difference in the financial burden for parents if schools are allowed to increase the amount students are required contribute.

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