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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Is free education a political stunt?
Teacher registering crowds of children
Education is seen as a passport to a better life
Kenya, Uganda, Sierra Leone and now Burundi have all introduced free primary education in recent years.

But schools have struggled to cope with a huge increase in numbers - sometimes to the detriment of fee-paying pupils.

Is it just a political stunt when there are not enough resources for adequate classrooms, teachers and equipment?

Is the rush to provide free places unnecessarily raising the hopes of parents and children?

Or is it a genuine way of motivating parents to send their children to school and get an education and enrich their lives?

Tell us your experiences and what you think. A selection will be published below and read on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme at 1700 GMT on Saturday 24 September.

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

Africa's economic backwardness is centred on one failing: the inability to move millions of poor subsitent farmers into the modern world - either as farmers, or into other occupations. The key to this lies in one fact: education. Give education to the greatest number of Africans, and the continent can begin to tackle its economic problems meaningfully. Any government, therefore, that truly desires to develop its country shold as a matter of priority give its citizens free and COMPULSORY education without which the country and its citizens would continue to wallow in poverty and under-development.
Abdulai MUSA, LAGOS, Nigeria

This is a problem faced not only by these countries but around the developing world, much of it in response to the UN's Education for All program an its goal to achieve full enrollment in primary education. Clearly this puts strains on an education system with few resources. The problem will only be further complicated in future years as more students will want to continue their educations past the primary level. However a push to encourage education is still one of the most important ways that developing countries can fight poverty. Even a little education can offer these students better job opportunities. Classrooms also offer some ofthe best opportunities to educate young people about issues related to publc health, sanitation, and economics.
alison lawrence, Austin, TX, USA

From my experience i would strongly say that the rush to provide free places unnecessarily raising the hopes of parents and children is a strong political stunt. The quality of education leaves much to be desired. If we want to rush into providing free places in schools lets also increase funding to education and seat down and make a sound education policy.
Kasote Esnart Mukosa, chinsali - zambia.

It is a bold move of polititicians and may be a test for their will and commitment for solving the current problems and a taste for those forced to stay home for years. I firmly believe that staying home is staying illiterate which is more expensive and painful for the soiciety than learning in classrroms crowded.
Filmon, An Ethiopian, studying in the Netherlands

Whatever the motive behind the governments that comes up with such a laudable initiative of free education might be, this is a move worth of encouragement and support not only because parents won't have an excuse but especially because it gives to desperate people a chance for a bright future. We can't run away from challenges such as the huge increase in number with few resources not only we learn from them but also because even before those countries embarked in that challenging program our schools used to face the same difficulties of inadequate classrooms, equipment etc. Isn┐t it interesting to read the adventure of the Kenyan oldest pupil Mr. Kimani Nganga Maruge who took part to the UN summit thanks to this program? I wish all the African countries could follow the example.
kapinga Ntumba, Harare-Zimbabwe

What has been the impact of the free education for primary pupils? No impact since. I think parents should be thought how to take reponsibilities, this would enable them to think and also control the rate of child birth in Africa. The problems in Africa should not be linked to poverty. The land of africa is rich but people in Africa are not ready to take up the challenges in making live meaningful and bearable. Our leaders always think that without help from donor countries we can not make it and so have this act ensalved us so much so that we can not make a head way in changing Africa.
Edward Egboagbe, Ghana, Accra

I think free education is a good thing for many poor families but the way it has been introduced is wrong. The Ministry Of Education should do it through a transition period. Like Burundi suffered from a long war schools has been closed for a long time. There was no teacher training during a long period. School managers are not trained in school management. During the transition period teacher should be trained in handling large classes, they should learn how to make children work in groups and how clever pupils can help the teacher in managing the class. The schoolmanager should be trained in handling bigger schools and should be learned how to imform the parents on school policies.

When these trainings are done the Ministry can annonce the free schooling policy.
Peter Merckx, Bujumbura

Free education (Primary to Senior Secondary)has been in practice in Botswana since 1998. It has benefitted a lot of people. Was it a political stunt here? No, it was matter of the country achieving good literacy rates across all ecomomic classes. I dont know about the countries mentioned. But its a commendable move. Use the money to educate the populace rather then waste it on armaments.

However, starting next year, fees will be re-introduced. I think it'll be hard for people to pay for some of their kids.
Lyle, Gaborone, Botswana

Every child deserves primary education and it is sad when kids miss out because of school fees. African govts (read Kenya) have squandered tax-payer's money/funds in years past leaving their citizens vulnerable. Education is the best way to fight poverty. The schools may be congested but we can't lose sight of the bigger picture. I know that most Kenyans abroad go out of their way to educate those at home. History will judge if they were playing politics or not but at the very least; let the young ones go to school for free. My life is better, thanks to an education, i would hate someone to miss out on the benefits that it could bring to a person/ society.
Peninnah Wanjeri, Boston, USAGhana was a living proof of what compulsory education can do for a nation till it was demolished during the years after Nkrumah's overthrow. Now just take a look at the pathetic state of the educational system in Ghana. The current generation is hardly literate. Children of the poor do not have any hope of getting educated. Their parents cannot afford to send them to the high priced private schools. At least a poor man's kid from Tumu was guaranteed a place in any of the top secondary schools in Nkrumah's Ghana provided he or she was bright. Subsequent rulers of Ghana should be ashamed of themselves for what they have done to the educational system.
K Twumasi, Accra, Ghana

Free primary education is the best thing to have happened to most poverty stricken African families. I would say it's a noble idea. The only problem is its implementation. For example in Kenya the system was introduced abruptly when the Narc Government came to power. There were no plans for more classrooms and desks to take up the influx of pupils. No one thought about the fact that increased number of pupils would require employment of more teachers. The financial muscle to see the project through is also lacking. The result is that although there is free education, the few teachers are demoralized, as they cannot coup up with the increased pupil numbers and workload. Education standards are therefore on the downward trend.
James Omedo Kihali, Nakuru, Kenya

Success in education depends on delicate balance of many factors. The money factor should not overshadow other factors. Critically speaking there in nothing like free education. Someone somewhere has got to pay for it. A poor peasants child has the potential to succeed at school in the same way as the child of a business executive. It certainly makes sense to make education affordable to all in countries where the gap between the rich is so wide. After success in education could depend on talent which could be inborn
Akuku Mourice, Ulm, Germany/KenyaThe question of greater importance is if the free primary education is of good quality. Why lose productive manual labor to ill-equipped classrooms?
Aye, Paris,France

Mozambique's crowded classrooms
16 Sep 05 |  Africa
Call for free African schools
09 Jul 03 |  Africa

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