Classrooms and chairs were scarce at crowded Burundian primary schools as 500,000 children — nearly double last year's enrollment...

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BUJUMBURA, Burundi — Classrooms and chairs were scarce at crowded Burundian primary schools as 500,000 children — nearly double last year’s enrollment — showed up for the first day of classes yesterday following the elimination of fees.

President Pierre Nkurunziza announced at his inauguration Aug. 19 that he would scrap primary-school fees of $4.50 per student, setting off a scramble to accommodate a surge in new applicants.

Nkurunziza said he was eliminating fees so that every student could get at least a primary education.

The elimination of fees made school possible for the first time for many families in this central African nation, many of whose 8.6 million people get by on less than $1 a day.

“We registered 264,853 pupils last year,” said Reverien Gahungu, director general of primary education. “Now we have an extra 234,000.”

The government will lose $1.8 million from waiving fees to 1.25 million students, Gahungu said. Officials say they are hoping for donations to help cover the loss. Leaders of developing nations in New York last week for a U.N. summit marking the world body’s 60th anniversary complained that richer nations have failed to keep promises of aid to meet those goals.

Making primary education universally available was a key goal in the Millennium Declaration issued by United Nations member governments in 2000 that laid out poverty-elimination goals.

Burundi is struggling to recover from an 11-year civil war between the former army, dominated by members of the Tutsi ethnic minority, and rebels from the Hutu majority.

The impoverished nation’s schools are so short of money that even before the elimination of fees, the average class had 75 students.