IT is a common story that coastal regions are famous for school drop outs and early pregnancies. Traditional dances and rites to adulthood were attributed to high rates of school drop outs and early pregnancies.
In some places along the coast, it was a common practice to hear girls as young as nine years at lower classes in primary school drop out of school immediately after puberty and passage rites to womanhood. What follows is that marriage is arranged for her which is supervised by her father/uncle. The groom to be was normally the father/uncle's close friend and socialization partners.
But that story has changed in some parts of coast as parents as well as girls have realized the importance of education as key to success in life. Mr Tabia Juma, the councillor for Kerege Ward in Bagamoyo District, Coast Region, says the Ward is doing better in terms of improving education especially for girls in the area. He says residents in the ward have realized the value of education for all the children and cases of school dropouts and pregnancies will soon become a thing of the past.
"We have designed a strategy aimed at addressing the problems of school girl pregnancies in Kerege Ward. For example, we are expecting to open a new secondary school to be known as Kerege Secondary School which opens in January. The school will be located at Mapinga village, some 40 kilometres from Bagamoyo District headquarters on the Dar es Salaam-Bagamoyo Highway.
"As we are reading for the school, to start with two streams of 45 students each, we have recruited eleven teachers, he said in an interview with the 'Sunday News' recently. The opening of Kerege Secondary School is part of efforts to improve education in the ward. Students in the new school will mainly come from primary schools located within Kerege Ward. There are more than ten primary schools in Kerege Ward.
"It is also in line with efforts to address transport challenges faced by students when going to and from school. It will also serve them from temptations they encounter on their way to and from schools because of the distance involved," he explains. The new public school will complement five private schools located in the ward which are absorbing a good number of children from Kerege ward.
But there are families which can hardly afford fees for the private schools in the area, thus, the opening of the new school has come as a blessing to low income families, according to Councillor Juma. However, there is completely a different situation in other parts of Coast region. Cases of school girl dropouts and pregnancies are on the increase in the districts. It is difficult to book perpetrators because of the secrecy surrounding the bad practice.
"Perpetrators walk scot free because once we identify such a problem we report to state authorities (the police) to follow the laid down procedures to arrest the suspects and bring them to courts. But the police fail to perform their duties when parents/ guardians or even the girls themselves refuse to cooperate, an official in the education department in Coast regional office told the 'Sunday News.'
According to the official, with the exception of Bagamoyo district, the problem is serious in the other districts-Kibaha Rural, Mkuranga, Kisarawe, Rufiji and Mafia. Coast region depends on cashew nuts as a cash crop. But the crop is not paying because the cashew trees are not well tended. The crop yield is below average. Mangoes, which are seasonal fruits and coconuts, are also cash crops for residents of Coast region.
Apart from cashew nuts local residents depend on cassava, rice and maize as staple food. Statistics from the region indicate that the per capita income of the local residents is about 700/- per day. It is among the regions with high fertility rate with an average of six to eight children per woman.
With more than 500 schools, Coast is among regions in the country with the highest rate of school dropouts. Reports further say, out of the ten primary school dropouts, seven are girls. Truancy and pregnancies are reported to be major reasons for school dropouts in Coast region. School performance in Coast region is the lowest in the country, according to reports from the ministry of education and vocational training authority.
Within the region, for example, Rufiji has the worst performance with less than 30 per cent of the children who enrolled for primary education seven years ago completing primary education. Pass rates for primary schools in Coast region are not encouraging either. For example, a reliable source in the regional education office told this paper that the schools' pass rate has dropped from an average of 30 per cent last year to a record 18 per cent low for the primary school examination results due to be announced later this month.
At national level the rate has dropped from 87 per cent last year to 34 per cent. The aforesaid revelation has come as Tanzania joins the international community to mark 16 days of activism against gender based violence in which countries and stakeholders pick themes as they commemorate the days.
The Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) that deals with women's empowerment and the protection of girl child and one of the stakeholders of education in the country chose the theme of school girls pregnancies. The highlights of the theme include raising public awareness on the magnitude of the problem in the country and recommend measures to help solve the problems.
In its study conducted in several regions in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar, the association's findings revealed that long distance to and from schools, lack of school feeding programmers, poverty in families and absence of school dormitories contribute greatly to increased cases of school girls' dropouts and early and unwanted pregnancies. The association has put forward set of recommendations to help solve the problems and improve the standard of education in the country.
These include the need to have qualified and committed teachers in ward secondary schools, construct hostels and dormitories within ward secondary schools and introduce the school feeding programmes in order to ensure high enrollment and retention in both primary and secondary schools. The Deputy Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, responsible for education,
Mr Khassim Majaliwa, is reported to have encouraged individuals with financial resources to invest in education as well as investing in the construction of hostels around ward secondary schools in efforts to contain the problems of school girl pregnancies. Kerege Ward, in Coast region, has showed the way by building public secondary school within reach for most of the children in the area.
The leadership in the ward has also realized that qualified and committed teachers are key to good performance of the school. According to Councillor Juma, having a total of eleven teachers even before the school starts is a sign of good start. The rest of the wards in Coast region can borrow a leaf from Kerege to address the problem of school dropouts and school girl pregnancies.