In a country such as Kenya, where close to 50% of the population lives in poverty, and the middle class earning between Ksh. 23,672 (USD 283) and Ksh. 119,999 (USD 1,433) per month, the cost of education can easily translate to between 55 and 70% of the average household’s income.
With competing demand for food, healthcare, housing and transport added to demands accruing from the country’s high dependency rate, (good) education is frequently simply unaffordable. Affordability of education is one of the key challenges that Kenya sought to address through the introduction of free primary education in 2003.
To finance free education, the Government of Kenya, for example allocates Ksh. 1,020 (USD 12) per pupil per year for the 9 million primary school pupils in public primary schools, and Ksh. 10,265 (USD 121) per student per year, for 2 million secondary school students in 6,654 public secondary schools. At individual level, this amount may not seem much, but collectively translates into a considerable amount for the government. Notwithstanding, the level of government funding in education has far reaching implications for the quality of education that a majority of the country’s population is able to access.
While primary education is “free” in much of Africa, however, there are several additional levies and costs charged, which mean that for the very poorest and most vulnerable, school remains out of reach. Fees and charges levied on parents and guardians are, nonetheless, somewhat understandable given the level of funding that government gives to free education.
Teachers are the most expensive, and the most important, resource in the education process. According to a study by UNESCO, teacher costs as a percentage of total education expenditure range from 40% (Botswana) to 90% (Ethiopia), noting that in the primary education sector this figure is consistently in the range between 85% and 99% for almost all developing and least developed.
The high cost of teacher salaries is, however, somewhat misleading. Due to the very low funding of education in many countries, teacher salaries may consume up to 99% of primary education expenditure, but with teachers’ salaries starting at an average of Ksh. 20,000 (USD 235) a month, individual teachers live barely above the poverty line.
The challenge in affordability of education arguably negates the importance of education as a means to socioeconomic empowerment and the redistribution of income, since the wealthier continue to access good education for their children, and the poorer continue to access poor quality education, and status quo is maintained.