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'Halt fees' plea to close literacy gap

Abolishing school fees is the top priority for governments in the struggle to close the huge gap between male and female literacy, say aid agencies and charities such as Actionaid, Oxfam and Save the Children.

This will be a major issue for the Conference of Commonwealth Education ministers meeting in Edinburgh on October 27. "The majority of children who are out of school are girls. If education requires an economic investment, families will first invest in boys, not girls," says Sarah Kline, Oxfam's head of government relations.

"Fees disproportionately punish girls," says David Archer, head of international education with the agency Actionaid. Ending fees has dramatic effects on school enrolment. Earlier this year the Kenyan government dropped all fees, and more than a million extra children enrolled in primary schools, an estimated two-thirds of them girls.

Aid agencies say governments must also include literacy programmes for women, and not just concentrate on increasing primary school places.

"Women's literacy has a positive impact on girls in school. Mothers have seen the value of education and begin to insist on it for their own children," Mr Archer said.

Increasing the number of women teachers and giving stipends for girls'

attendance are all important issues. In West Africa a scheme to provide chaperones to accompany girls to school has increased the staying-on rate.

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