Education Vouchers in Developing Countries

Published August 1, 2001

School vouchers and targeted scholarship programs in the U.S. generally are used to help low-income families transfer their children from inadequate public schools to more acceptable private schools. In developing countries, these same tools are often used to help poor families invest in schooling when the capacity of public schools isn’t adequate to meet demand.

For example, the number of seats available in public educational institutions in Côte d’Ivoire, Africa’s Ivory Coast, is insufficient to meet student demand. To bridge some of the supply gap, the government has introduced a program of sponsoring needy students to attend private institutions. Private schools receive a payment for each sponsored student placed at their institution. In 1997, the government paid out some $103 million to sponsor over 162,000 students in private primary and secondary schools.

In The Gambia, the government is introducing a scholarship program for girls in the country’s upper basic and secondary schools. In the most deprived regions of The Gambia, full scholarships for tuition, books, and examination fees will be awarded to one-third of the girls in schools with low enrollment. In less-deprived regions, full scholarships for tuition and examination fees will be awarded to 10 percent of the girls who are excelling in science, mathematics, and technology.

Colombia’s national secondary school voucher program, established in 1991, was designed to offer municipalities a short-term, cost-effective, and efficient option to expand access to secondary schooling by low-income students. With vouchers, the students are able to attend private secondary schools that have excess classroom capacity.

Vouchers and Voucher-like Schemes
in Developing Countries
Country Mechanism
Bangladesh Stipends for girls to attend public or private schools
Belize Government partnerships with churches to share costs of schooling
Bolivia Private management of public schools by church-based organization
Brazil Matching grants; capitation grants; and scholarships for poor students
Botswana Matching-grant schemes
Chad Community financing
Chile Voucher system for poor students; capitation grants for all students
China Matching-grant programs; targeted bursary for poor and minority children
Colombia Targeted voucher system
Côte d’Ivoire Government sponsorship of students at private institutions
Dominican Republic Assistance to private schools serving low-income students
El Salvador School choice for poor children
The Gambia Targeted scholarships; capitation grants for all students
Guatemala Targeted stipends for girls in 13 communities
Ghana Matching-grant programs
India Matching-grant programs and numerous incentives
Indonesia Targeted scholarships for junior secondary school students
Jamaica Student loans
Kenya Voucher for informal sector workers to take courses that upgrade skills
Lesotho Government partnership with churches to share costs of schooling
Mauritius Matching-grant programs
Mexico Targeted bursary for poor and indigenous populations
Myanmar Community-sponsored schools
Morocco Scholarships for rural girls
Mozambique Scholarships for rural girls
Pakistan Community scholarships; subsidies to private schools serving rural girls
Senegal Scholarships for students to attend private and public schools in Dakar
Tanzania Matching-grant programs; targeted scholarships for secondary school girls
Thailand Bicycles for poor students to get to school in rural areas
Zimbabwe Per-capita grants
Source: Patrinos, H.A., “Market Forces in Education,” European Journal of Education 35(1):61-80 (2000)

Harry Anthony Patrinos is senior education economist with the World Bank in Washington, DC. He specializes in the economics of education and has published widely in this field. He is the founder of EdInvest, the global education investment information facility, which has a Web site at His email address is [email protected]. The views expressed here are those of the author and should not be attributed to the World Bank Group.

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