Education is a vital process that enables pupils and students to acquire knowledge and skills that can earn them a living and a respectable life. Within most education systems are measures such as user charges and cost recovery. These measures are put forward so as to improve the quality of education. In Sub-Saharan Africa countries, the user charges and cost recovery measures have been criticised by some people on equity grounds although within the same region other people have defended the measures based on the same grounds.
This essay therefore, intends to identify and discuss the various dimensions of user charges and cost recovery measures in education as well as to propose an alternative for user charges and other cost recovery measures in the Zambian education system. In order to have a wider understanding of this essay, the key words that are frequently appearing should be defined.
According to (Jiminez, 1987) user charges are defined as a fee for service or a direct charge for the provision of a good or service by the Government in an open market while cost recovery is the regain of the costs of government-provided or funded products, services or activities that, at least in part, provide private benefits to individuals, entities or groups, or reflect the costs their actions impose. User charges fall within the broader concept of cost sharing which involves the contributions from users towards the cost of the particular service that they benefit from such as education, health and water (Terme, 2002).
Cost sharing takes a wide range of forms such as direct charges and indirect charges. Examples of direct charges in education are charging fees for tuition and for school writing materials while the indirect charges include in kind contributions such as maintenance, construction and furniture. Such in kind contributions must equate to the official fees of the services provided. User charges however, are direct charges or fees which in the education system may include PTA funds which the school can use for the construction of ablution blocks and class room blocks.
Examples of user charges in public offices include fee for a copy of a marriage, birth or death certificate. Cost recovery measures may include the products, services and different activities such as: recreational services; minerals and petroleum services; registration and licensing activities that the government offers to people that have costs (Lockheed and Verspoor, 1990). These costs can be recovered by either the users or other people who benefit from goods, services or activities. They can also be recovered from taxpayers.
The education systems such as colleges offer teaching programs to students, the students benefit from such programs by acquiring skills and knowledge for teaching in other government or private schools. Since colleges have to buy chemicals for school laboratories, they also have to provide internet services, white board makers and other educational activities. The colleges have to find other ways of recovering such costs so as to maintain quality in their services. This is usually done by imposing tuition fees for all students, charging boarding fees, book fees as well as internet fees.
The resources acquired from user charges and cost recovery measures are said to be equitably distributed to all sectors of economy. Equity is the fairness, justice in the distribution of resources (Kelly, 1999). This concept is normative in nature meaning that it involves the distribution of resources to different areas according to the amount needed and not on equal basis. It is also concerned with the patterns in which cost and benefits are being distributed among different areas of a society. To achieve equity in an area, resources as well as benefits must be distributed unequally that is more to the poor and less to the rich.
An action like this should be done because the poor lack sources for income as well as protection hence providing less funds for their schools than the rich. This indicates that most of the poor people largely depend on different resources from the government in order to earn a living. User charges and cost recovery measures in the Sub-Saharan countries are seen by some people to be promoting equity in the education system because they improve the way resources are allocated in all the education institutions (World Bank Policy Research Report, 2001).
User charges and cost recovery measures also lead to the effective contribution of resources. This in schools is usually achieved when the value that users place on educational services equal the cost of resources used up in the production of those services. Pupils as well as parents tend to value education, by so doing they put pressure on the school, teachers and the stuff to maintain quality. This increases accountability of education institutions hence the easy detection of problems to do with learning. Accountability in education enhances equity.
The proper functioning of the user charges and cost recovery results into meeting and maintain the resource requirements for the education system. In situations when the government is not incapable of providing needed resources the school from the user fees can generate its own needed resources and solve any problem at hand. User charges often ensure the provision of quality leaning through the provision of books and other important learning materials, improved school planning and management, better utilization of teaching staff and reduced unit cost in construction for those who enroll.
The vulnerable groups of society can also enroll by paying fees through in kind contribution to the construction of the school and even maintenance of school materials. Therefore, the equity benefits in this instance results from the use of resources in ways that benefit the poorest. Such benefits manifest through improvements in the provision of education in rural areas as well quality of educational services. User charges and cost benefits in the Sub-Saharan countries have been criticised because the vulnerable groups in such societies have been found not to be benefiting from the resources that are said to be distributed on equity.
According to (Kelly, 1999) disadvantaged groups of society comprise of the poor, people that are handicapped, the girls or females and those that live in rural areas. With the user charges in the system, children from the poor families may not enroll because these families will have to look at how they will make indirect costs such as transportation, school meals, school provisions and sports as well as direct costs such as school fees and boarding fees. Besides that poor children also lack personal material and are unable to buy materials that are sold at school.
With high levels of poverty children cannot be allowed to go to school because they are a source of income in their families especially in areas of farm work and selling. Those that are allowed to go to school usually go on empty stomachs. This affects them negatively in academic performance thus causing inefficiencies in the school system. In addition the school curriculum as well as the culture of learning act as barriers in the educational endeavors of these children because it is too advanced for them to understand and does not relate to their everyday activities.
The other dimension is that this type of educational provision does not encompass areas such as rural areas. Education provision in rural areas is poorer than in urban areas (Central Statistics Office, 1997), because most of the teachers sent to teach in these areas are untrained, this in turn leads to poor quality in education; the school buildings and sanitation are so poor such that pupils get less motivated to attend lessons; materials and other supplies are not adequately distributed hence preventing pupils from acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills.
The fairness, justification as well as the treatment of all people according to their needs that is said to be an outcome of user charges and cost recovery measures is seen not to apply in such cases. The other dimension that equity distribution does not cater for is that of the handicapped. One of the major problem in this area is lack of accurate information on the number of children with special educational needs (Central Statistics Office, 1994) the second one is the attitude of society to education of people with special needs.
Some parents feel ashamed of themselves of having disabled children hence not sending them to school. Education for these children is not provided fully because even if they enroll they do not receive all the facilities they need for quality learning. In the gender dimension, the gender-based constraints to education tend to be more pronounced in rural areas (Psacharopoulos and Woodhall, 1985). This is due to the fact that the environment is normally more accommodative of gender inequality.
Rural areas display strict traditional cultural values, attitudes and practices, such practices are harmful to girls education for they encourage early marriage, abduction, genital mutilation, sexual violence, excessive domestic chores, male superiority and domination of women are tolerated and encouraged by the community both inside and outside the school and with the user charges imposed, parents will opt to sending male children to school than female ones.
Alternative justification for user charges and cost recovery measures in the Zambian education system must involve the participation of the poor; people that stay in the rural areas; the handicapped, the girls and other vulnerable people in society. According to (Carmody, 2004) the Zambia education system has been faced with severe constraints in items of finance. This can be solved by the increase in the sector funding by the government and the private sector. Increased funding in a particular sector increases financial resources.
The increased financial resource can be used for the construction of educational facilities for handicapped children as well as building new and better schools in the rural areas. Such resources can also be used for sponsoring the education of children from the poor families in education. This can change the face of education in Zambia if it is effectively implemented. In conclusion, user charges and cost recovery in the Sub-Saharan countries cannot alone bring about equity in the distribution of resources in entire society because such countries are still developing.
This means that the presence of a large number of poor people in these countries tends to bring about such irregularities. Therefore, in order for the vulnerable to be fully incorporated into the education system, there would be need for assistance in the form of funding by the government and the private sector. These should also be involved in the provision resources and the running of education system in order for them to counter check the progress of education of the people being sponsored as well as the people sponsoring themselves.