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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 22:22 GMT 23:22 UK
Call for free African schools
The director of an influential group of schools in Africa has said more girls will only go into education if fees are scrapped across the continent.

Child guards water containers in Kenya
Many African children still have to do tasks such as water collection
In sub-Saharan Africa - as in the rest of the world - more boys than girls go to school. In West Africa it is estimated that only about 40% of girls are in school.

More countries needed to follow the lead being set in East Africa, said Dr Eddah Gachukia, the Academic Director of the Riara Group of schools.

"I want to say it loud and clear - they must make education free," Dr Gachukia told BBC World Service's Africa Live! programme.

"That must be a priority for any government."

Some African countries have recently been moving towards this idea, and the recently-elected Kenyan government made it a key commitment in its election campaign.

"We know from Uganda and Kenya that abolishing fees is one thing any government can do. Then we can struggle with other problems," Dr Gachukia said.

She said that while fees had to be paid for children's education, African culture meant that boys would always be favoured.

"Because of the social and cultural attitudes so prevalent in Africa about boys being the ones who benefit the family - while the girl benefits other families - many parents tend to select the boy," she stated.

"So free education is one big step forward."

School in Guinea
When you educate a man, you educate an individual, when you educate a woman you educate a nation
Afriyie, USA

Schoolteachers in Nairobi, Kenya, backed up Dr Gachukia's comments.

"We face a lot of challenges educating the girls - we have problems with drop-outs due to poverty, due to early marriages," said Catherine Kuromboi, a teacher at AIC Girl's Boarding School in the south-west of Nairobi.

"What are governments in Africa doing to see that these girls get quality education and they stay in school?"

Many of the girls at the boarding school are refugees who have been given a second chance at education.

Narrowing the gap in educational standards between boys and girls in Africa is seen as an essential part of attaining a number of the UN Millennium Development Goals, including achieving universal child education, reducing child poverty, and promoting gender equality.

But the message is taking time to penetrate in many areas of the continent.

"A girl's education is important - but not all the girls here are educated," nine-year-old Chine, the speaker of the National Children's Parliament in Nigeria, told Africa Live!.

"In most Islamic parts of the country, a girl of nine or ten years can get married, which is not good.

"I am nine - imagine me getting married - how would I begin to take care of my home? I would just forget everything about my education.

"We have to do something about that."

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