are paper products for schools cheap in poor countries?

I know that notebooks are not particularly cheap in America. Well, not sure how much they are, but if I lived on a dollar per day, it would probably be a meaningful cost.

So, when kids in 3rd world go to school, do they use some alternative paper product that is much cheaper and maybe not even bound into a notebook? Or do they just sell notebooks for a lot less there? Or do they avoid paper completely, using some sort of mini whiteboards that you can erase after writing and reuse over and over again?

I have some limited experience in Vietnam, and the writing tablets for the early grades are thick and made from newsprint type paper. It feels cheaper and thinner. Don’t know what the cost is to the schools.

In Cameroon, primary school children did indeed come to school with miniature chalkboards, just like our great-grandparents did. It was also fairly common for families to use chalkboard paint on a plank of wood at home so the kids could do their math homework, etc. Students without this at home would stay around the school after hours to use their chalkboards.

In high school, students were expected to have a notebook for each subject- the cheapest would be basically tracing paper and go for around twenty cents for a hundred pages. Most students could not afford the school books, so instead the teacher would write the content of the book on the board and students would spend much of class copying it. The students would leave the center pages of the notebook blank so that they could neatly tear out double-sheets for tests. They’d always complain bitterly when I made them turn something in on their own paper.

Incidental school expenses- uniforms, paper, pens (about twenty cents a pop), etc. were a major problem for kids and were a big reason why kids would drop out even if they could afford the school fees. Even teachers were not immune. The only supply our school issued us was exactly one box of a chalk, which we were expected to nurse throughout the year (and the students would beg for our chalk stubs.) I remember a very ugly incident where the math teacher got in a screaming fight trying to get another box of chalk.


could the school switch to a cheaper uniform to ease the burden? Perhaps even abolish it or reduce it to some trivial insignia?

Could money be saved on pens if the pen were easy to reload with ink? Or is that already used and too expensive anyway?

Could a charity just flood Africa with subsidized chalk, or would that result in it being diverted for… I don’t know, can chalk be used for anything other than school work?

The uniforms are already pretty cheap- they were thin cotton outfits stitched up by local tailors, worn for years, and often passed down. But it was still a burden. Washing them was also a lot of work when soap is expensive and water gets hauled great distances.

But you’d be hard pressed to get rid of them. Part of it is colonial legacy. People have it in their heads that there are certain things that school children do, and one of them is wearing uniforms. A school without uniforms would lose a of legitimacy in people’s eyes. Uniforms are also supposed to smooth over economic and tribal differences. For example, they strict-Muslim girls would walk to school wearing long wrap skirts and veils over their uniforms, but once on campus these things were forbidden- they decided school was not the place to display your differences. At least I wasn’t in the South- in the South all students, male or female, had to shave their heads! Finally, Cameroonian culture has a complicated and unique relationship to clothing that makes them particularly interested in having uniforms.

I don’t really think cheaper pens or more chalk would help. Probably the biggest block to commerce was that the infrastructure- transportation and the like- just wasn’t there. By the time anything made it up where I was, it’s gonna be expensive no matter what.