13 June 2012

Tanzania: Counselling Betters Learning in Schools

PROMOTION of counselling services and peer education in primary and secondary school has led to multiple successes including reducing unwanted schoolgirl pregnancies and the number of dropouts in intervention schools.

According to findings by the Prevention and Awareness in Schools of HIV and Aids (PASHA) Project, there is also strong evidence that the programme improves academic performance of students and pupils.

Presenting the project's achievements since it was incepted in 2003, National PASHA Coordinator, Mr Benedict Mangulu told a workshop for a broad range of professionals from the education and health sector in Dar es Salaam that the programme positively influences the attitude of beneficiaries.

"There is strong evidence that it has strengthened their life skills, leading to empowerment and improved gender equality. Programme stakeholders also report on improved discipline and reduced number of dropouts in intervention schools," he said.

On reduced number of unwanted schoolgirl pregnancies, experts have observed that schoolgirl pregnancies are a useful proxy indicator for the frequency of unprotected sex which is also related to risk of HIV infections. Mr Mangulu cited Mtwara region as an example, noting that the number of unwanted pregnancies has dropped from 500 annually to less than 200 a year.

PASHA Mtwara Region Coordinator, Ms Beatrice Masanja, echoed the sentiments, noting in all the schools where the project was being implemented there had been great improvement. She added that creating awareness has also assisted parents who had initially resisted peer education to their children on grounds it had nothing to do with their curricula.

"In some schools at the moment there is zero truancy and the number of dropouts has greatly reduced. The tricky part is to establish if the number of infections is also on the decline because that is beyond our areas of operation," she said.

Earlier when opening the workshop, the Acting Commissioner for Education in the Ministry for Education and Vocational Training, Ms Marystella Wassena, noted that insufficient information makes young people susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and infections.

She said that the introduction of PASHA programmes has helped in the provision of accurate knowledge, skills and attitudes to help change individual behaviours.

PASHA was introduced with the aim of addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV and Aids in schools. Since 2003 it was supported by the German government through the Tanzanian German Programme to Support Health (TGPHS).

TGPHS Programme Manager, Dr Inge Baumgarten, said that they were pleased with the project's tremendous success but were also sad that they would no longer finance the project after this June. Over the nine years of collaboration, she said, some 750 schools were enrolled in the programme and more than 5,000 peer educators and 2,000 school counsellors were trained, through a pool of trainers.

Through that period, German financial support amounted to 3.9 million Euros (8bn/-), matching the counterpart contribution of the Ministry of Education which mainly consisted of human resources and infrastructure. Others donors like Tanzania Heads of Secondary Schools Association, Restless Development, USAID, Medicos del Mundo have committed to scaling up of the programme in Tanga, Lindi, Mtwara, Mbeya, Iringa, Ruvuma, Morogoro and Kilimanjaro regions.

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