'Education at our school is not free': the hidden costs of fee-free schooling in Rwanda

Timothy P. Williams* (Corresponding Author), Pamela Abbott, Alfred Mupenzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


As primary school enrolment rates in Rwanda near ubiquity, completion rates remain low and repetition rates remain high. This study investigates the impact of the ‘hidden costs’ of schooling in the context of Rwanda’s fee-free education policy. Using a social-science case study, focus groups and interviews were undertaken with 200 participants, including local leaders, school administrators, children and caregivers. Findings suggest children continue to contend with a range of school-related costs that impact attendance, performance and completion. Examination fees, after-school coaching and ‘voluntary’ parent-teacher association dues were found to have serious consequences for children’s educational experience. Findings illustrate how these ‘hidden costs’ may be a key factor explaining why children do not complete their schooling once enrolled. A series of policy recommendations are offered and broader implications for children’s rights and Education For All are discussed. Further in-depth and comparative study is required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)931-952
Number of pages22
JournalCompare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education
Issue number6
Early online date11 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Africa
  • education for all
  • school fees
  • policy analysis
  • international development
  • global childhood studies


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