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Gbetonmasse Somasse, Clark University
In 2006, Benin government adopted a Free Primary Education (FPE) policy, abolishing parent-paid tuition fees and increased significantly resources towards schools. In this paper, I examine whether the financing education through Government’s intervention reduced the wealth and gender gap as well as prior geographical disparities in educational outcomes. I also evaluate how the expanded access has affected human capital formation as measured by student achievement. The identification strategy relies on pre-FPE differences in dropout rates across municipalities in a difference-in-differences approach. Using municipality and household level data, I find evidence that the fee elimination attenuated the inequality of access by increasing primary school completion for traditionally disadvantaged groups, including girls, low-income, and the northern region populations. The increased enrollment had no significant adverse effect on student achievement as measured by the probability of passing the primary school exit exam (CEP). Moreover, the policy potentially helped low performing municipalities narrow the achievement gap through the retention of better achieving students who would have dropped out of the education system otherwise. These results suggest that when implemented properly, public financing of educational reforms can lead to welfare improvements. The findings may therefore have important policy implications for Benin and other developing countries with similar strategies.