The Hidden Costs of Schooling for Ethiopian Parents

Reflecting a typical trend of their status and membership of a developing society, Ethiopian parents send their children to school with a great hope that their schooled children will obtain profitable employment that will assist them in the future. However, in a USIAD study of 1993, Ethiopian parents also cite the costs of education, in terms of opportunity costs as well as school materials, as being among the biggest reasons for not sending children to school. Rural parents appear to be carefully weighing the possible benefits of future employment against the hard realities of both direct and indirect costs. When asked to specify which school expenses they found the most difficult, for both boys and girls, parents indicated that the expenses for which they had the greatest difficulty were the same for both boys and girls. Clothing costs were the most frequently cited, by 36.5 percent of the respondents. Although virtually every child has clothes, some parents indicated that the social expectation of children who attend school was to have better, higher quality clothing, perhaps including shoes. The USAID researchers observe that such responses indicate that the tattered clothing children in rural areas typically wear would be seen as inappropriate for school use. Schoolbooks were cited as the second most difficult expense. Book rentals are nominally 3 birr per academic year or less than 0.50 US dollars, and it was apparent that many children attended school without the benefit of a book, pen, or even an exercise book. School fees, nominally the same per child as book rental, were also cited as a source of difficulty by over 20 percent of the sample. A number of headmasters informed us that although these fees appeared relatively modes, they had to waive all or part of the registration fees or risk withdrawal of the proportionately small student population they had.

USAID researchers suggest that the sensitivity of school fees reflect expectations on that part of parents that school costs, as with teacher salaries, should be borne by government rather than at the household level. Parents in all four regions (Bale, Semien Gondar, Central Tigray and Welaita) where this study was conducted identified the cost of clothing as the most difficult school expenditure. Although a certain amount of clothing costs may not be directly associated with school, parents indicated that there was a higher "standard" of dress expected of school attending children. It was also not uncommon to observe students in schools, who were barefoot, though they were always a minority.

Although this USAID study did not specifically measure the difference between clothing costs for attending and non-attending children, the researchers note that while conducting their study they observed what appeared to be significant variation between the two populations. Children encountered at home were quite frequently seen wearing torn and ill fitting clothing. This was much less so the case among children observed in the classroom setting. Parents frequently discussed this "hidden" cost while conducting both the household surveys and the focussed interviews.
Source USAID, 1993