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Nigeria's Kaduna State Removing School Fees

FILE - Children gather for breakfast at the Local Education primary school refugee centre Bondon, Kaura Local Government Kaduna State, March 20, 2014.

Millions of Nigerian children don’t attend school, in part because their parents can’t afford it. One state is trying to change that by abolishing fees.

In theory, public primary school education in Nigeria is free. But in practice, public schools charge for uniforms, books and meals.

Those fees are often the equivalent of less than $25, but even that is too much for some families.

FILE - School children walk in the street in Lagos, Nigeria, June 17, 2014.
FILE - School children walk in the street in Lagos, Nigeria, June 17, 2014.

However, the governor of Kaduna state in northern Nigeria says the state will now cover the cost of those necessities for students in public primary and junior secondary schools.

"With this free education, we have saved Kaduna state parents, whose children attend public school, over three billion naira annually,” said Samuel Aruwan is a spokesman for the state government.

Nigeria is home to the world’s largest population of out-of-school children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. About 10.5 million children were out of school in 2012, UNICEF estimates, due to a combination of poverty, cultural traditions and in some parts of the country, conflict.

Tough choices

Suleman Yakubu says he can afford to send his children to public school but he knows many parents who can’t.

"The money for food, to be given to a child to buy uniform or textbooks, that's why most of these parents refuse to take their child to the school,” he said.

But some teachers in Kaduna state say getting children into school is just one challenge. A junior secondary school teacher who didn't want his name used said classrooms are overcrowded and underequipped.

"If you look at the condition per class now, it’s 200 and something student per class," he said. "How will the teacher teach children of 200 and something student in a class for a period? You know, it’s not an easy thing.”

Kaduna started its no-fees policy in September. Aruwan says it will be fully implemented when the new term starts in January.

Ibrahima Yakubu reported from Kaduna, Nigeria and Chris Stein from Accra.