From Guy Grossman and Evan Lieberman, this Ugandan New Vision article:
The day Government started paying tuition for all school going children, was the day parents ‘declared’ a holiday from taking care about their children’s education. What a shame.
Almost all school management committee became dull. Government stood at a distance and barked, but did not care to bite. Years down the road, the rot seems to be perforating its way through free education’s foundation in the country.
A decade down the road, Government is gradually realising that the parents stealthily put so much weight on its back, and this is gradually eating down the country’s quality of education.
I’ve heard much the same thing from various head teachers in Kenya, absolutely lamenting the detrimental effects of free primary education (FPE)! The simple argument is that when parents don’t have to pay, they feel no stake in the school, no obligation to participate in management, and they simply delegate education to government. And because poor people in poor areas are not paying any kind of direct income tax, given low or non-existent incomes, they are not engaged in any type of fiscal contract. It’s pretty painful to think that in trying to provide universal primary education (and beyond) in these East African countries that the plan itself might actually be causing harm to the quality of learning.
The introduction of free education in Africa (or social security in Latin America) presents a short-lived opportunity to see the effect of government provision of education and other forms of welfare–relevant to US and European policy debates in this era of small government resurgence.
The laments of head teachers alone don’t convince me, but I would not be surprised if it were true. I pity that there are not (to my knowledge) studies taking advantage of the changes for a more rigorous answer.