3 January 2013

Tanzania: Arusha - 5,400 Students Just Gone Missing

Photo: The East African
Arusha has reported a total number of 5,400 drop-out cases (file photo).

THEY have all disappeared, gone AWOL or just melted into thin air. The number has reached 5,400 in the entire Arusha region. Indeed the case of runaway pupils has become a national problem.

Apparently a total of 37,493 Primary School pupils in Arusha region sat for their final (2012) Standard Seven Examinations, and with results just released a concern is being raised that nearly 5,500 dropped out of their respective schools in the seven year-long primary level journey.

Official figures from the Regional Education Office here indicate that the total number of pupils enrolled in Standard One classes back in 2006 was a respectable 42,883. By the time the entire lot reached their final year of the basic education, the number had dropped down to 38,844 which is the same figure of candidates who got registered for the qualifier exams to join the Secondary Education stage in 2013.

Already up that final stage Arusha had seen a total of 4,039 students dropping off to oblivion without making it to the last year of the primary education. The region then registered 38,844 candidates for the last September Exams. But while around 4,040 pupils melted into thin air within the last six years, at the average of 673 dropouts per year, the final twelve months recorded the biggest bombshell of all.

In the year 2012 alone, a total of 1,351 pupils and who had already registered for the final national examinations vanished without trace, bringing the total number of children who lost their education chances in the last seven years to 5,400 and if an annual average of the figure was to be taken, then Arusha has been losing 771 primary school pupils each year, since the first batch was registered in 2006.

So where have all these children and youth gone? Until now authorities are busy with guesswork; the easiest explanations being Death, Illness, Early Marriages and even cases of young people deciding to ditch classes for business. Politics, of late, have also been contributing to the role of snatching pupils and students from classrooms and enlisting them into a number of missions including being guards, sergeant at arms or just cheerleaders.

Arusha, especially the urban parts of the region, has become a vicinity in which young people take great pride in being involved in missions that make them feel like 'freedom fighters!' out to save the country, if not the entire world from clutches of 'bad people,' or something. Politics or acts related to them, have been described to take toll on mostly male students' school performance and attendance.

In the rural parts of Arusha, the youth face many factors that have been stifling their education prosperity and this include long distances to school. Take a district like Ngorongoro where the distance from one rural village to another can reach 80 kilometres.

And the Ngorongoro Division, which is essentially a conservation area, the road or path from home to school in most cases meanders through herds of buffaloes, pride of lions and slithering snakes all being shrouded in claustrophobic fogs. In much hotter districts such as Monduli and Longido, the search for water usually undertaken by nomadic pastoralists, may take families on endless journeys cutting across wilderness, bushes and savannahs taking potential pupils further and further away from their learning institutions.

And of course there are the notorious early marriages; girls in Maasai and Sonjo communities still suffer the traditional African male chauvinism which states clearly that the 'place for women' is in the kitchen not classrooms. In 2006 when the current candidates started their class one, the number of girls at 21,603 exceeded that of boys (21,280), but the female pupils who eventually turned up in exam rooms this year were 19,488 which means 2,115 girls had gone missing en route.

Still, the number of female dropouts have been less than their male counterparts who accounted for 3,275 missing pupils, bringing the concern of easy money pursuit as well as 'freedom fighting,' being factors negatively affecting the future of local boys' education.

Okay and for those who sat for the exams, how many will be reporting to Secondary Schools in 2013? Official reports show that 26,464 candidates did very well in the just released examinations results for Arusha Region. However, it is also being reported that only 19,626 pupils will be absorbed in a number of Secondary Schools both within Arusha region and country as a whole, leaving 6,838 others stranded despite their good marks.

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