With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), several African governments are making education free as part of their strategies to achieve universal primary education. In 2006, the Benin government adopted a Free Primary Education (FPE) policy, abolishing parent-paid tuition fees and increasing resources towards schools. In this article, the author examines whether or not this policy reduced the wealth and gender gap and prior geographical disparities in educational outcomes. Also evaluated is whether expanded access to education affected student achievement. The methodology used was a difference-in-differences approach that relied on pre-policy differences in dropout rates across municipalities to identify the effects of the policy. Analyzing municipality and household-level data, the author found evidence that the fee elimination policy reduced inequality of access by increasing school completion rates for traditionally disadvantaged groups, which included girls and low-income populations. The increased enrollment also had no significant adverse effect on student achievement as measured by the probability of passing the primary school exit exam. Moreover, the policy potentially helped low-performing municipalities narrow the achievement gap by retaining more high-achieving students, who would otherwise have dropped out of the education system. If strategies such as making schooling more affordable and available are enough to narrow educational disparities and retain more high-achieving students in the education system with potentially positive peer effects, then Benin’s experience may have important policy implications for other African and developing countries that use similar education strategies.

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