The Jacobs Foundation has been working in Africa for more than 8 years with the aim of improving the livelihoods of children and youth, especially in rural areas.
The Foundation’s focus is on Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities (TRECC), a seven-year program designed to promote education, strengthen women and protect children in rural cocoa communities in Ivory Coast. To understand the specific challenges smallholder families in Africa are facing regarding the education of their children, Jacobs Foundation launched together with FSD Kenya and Bankable Frontier Associates a research project based on the Kenya Financial Diaries, a non-representative data set analysing how low income people manage their financial lives.
The paper “Getting an education in rural Kenya: Findings based on the Kenya Financial Diaries” seeks to determine how much Kenyan families actually spend on education and which financial tools Kenyans deploy in obtaining an education for their children.
Smallholders value education highly but are challenged by large fees
The research shows that especially rural households value education for their children highly. A quarter of all interviewees mention education-related achievements as their main source of pride in life. This not only shows in words, but also in numbers: School expenses account for an impressive share of expenses in low-income families. For example, for households where agriculture is the main income source, it represents about 18% of expenses, twice as much as for urban households (9%).
Additionally, data shows that families pay for education in many instalments over the year, as opposed to a lump sum payment one or twice a year. In many cases parents pay just the bare minimum required for their children to stay in school. Sometimes they only pay after a child was sent back home for arrears being deemed unacceptable by the headmaster. Parents then often negotiate the minimum payment for the child to be accepted back into school, instead of paying the whole outstanding amount. During the research period, 80% of agricultural dominant households had at least one kid sent home from school.
This behaviour can be partly explained by the fact that families want their “money to work”, i.e. they want and need to invest in business instead of having their money “sit around and wait”. In terms of financial management low-income populations are used to “putting out fires” all the time and it is for them economically rational to do the same with education if the opportunity cost of losing a day or two of schooling for their kids is not judged very high due to bad quality of education.
Challenges to fund secondary education are even bigger
And what if there is no available source to pay for education? Many children remain in primary school until their parents have enough money to pay for their secondary education, even if these children could already attend secondary school. Secondary education is more expensive especially for rural populations where the next school might be too far to commute every day. It thus implies much higher costs adding boarding and transportation expenses. In agriculture-dominant households, 68% of children at secondary school age are still in primary school.
Also, in many rural areas, children aged 14 or 15 have completed less than 6 years of education on average, about 2 to 3 years less than they should. Reasons for this are often low performance because of repeated drop-out due to the necessity to work and contribute to family income as well as lack of money for school fees.
Although agriculture-dominant households are just as motivated as other types of households to ensure that their children are well educated, there is evidence that they are, in particular, less able to provide a smooth delivery of that education. Thus development programs that seek to improve agricultural productivity while also promoting the educational attainment of smallholder farming households are striking at the heart of the burdens borne by these families.