Former Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel speaks to Butiama District government officials, community leaders and parents on ending child marriages when she visited Nyamisisi Primary School last month.
A promising journey to reintegrate 20,000 out of school children aged 7-17 years into the basic education system has begun in Mara Region. It is a journey that will see the children being enrolled with the Complementary Basic Education Tanzania (COBET) programme under the Mara Out-of School Children Project.
The project aims to reintegrate the children into basic education system by removing barriers that keep them out of school. COBET, popularly known as Memkwa in Kiswahili, was initiated by the government in 1999 with the support of UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
This is a non-formal education second-chance option that fulfills the right for children who never had the chance to start primary school or who dropped out of school.
COBET is a "fast-track" special curriculum that delivers the existing primary education curriculum to children in flexible schooling times, child-centered approaches and participatory methodologies.
This allows children, who are behind their schooling, to catch up with others while they maintain their other livelihood activities.
According to a study conducted by UNICEF in 2015, Tanzania has more than 3 million children who are out of school due to various reasons. Out of this around 60,000 of them were found in Mara Region, according to the Mara Out-of- School Children Project Manager Godfrey Wawa. "Our aim is to support 20,000 out of 60,000 children who are out of school in Mara Region according to a UNICEF study conducted in 2015," Wawa said this week.
The Mara Out-of-School Project is jointly implemented by the Graca Machel Trust, Mara Alliance and the Mara regional government. Wawa says the project focuses on identification, enrollment and keeping the children in schools with COBET classes set to begin early next month (May 1) in more than 200 centres.
A recent survey study by the project commissioned to the Economic Social Research Foundation (ESRF) had identified 11,666 out of school children line up to start benefiting from the project during its first phase.
"We commissioned ESRF to conduct the study and our projection was 10,000 children but they identified 11,666 children," Wawa said.
Since the project will be implemented in two phases, the remaining targeted children, he said, would be reached during the second phase to start in July this year. The beneficiary children are categorized into two groups: Cohort 1, which targets those aged 7-13 years and Cohort 2, which targets older children aged 14 -17 years old.
The COBET class for each category will be taking three- andhalf years, he said. "Cohort 1(7-13 years) will be staying in schools for three- and-a-half years and after that they will write Standard Four exams and those who will pass will join Standard Five in the formal education system.
While those aged 14-17 (Cohort 2) will sit for Standard Seven national exams after completing the COBET classes and those who will pass will join secondary education," Wawa explained.
The Mara Out-of-School Project is seen as a surprise to the children who perhaps never thought of getting even basic education to enable them read and write, thanks to whoever is supporting the initiative.
According to the project survey, the majority of the children identified had been to school before but later dropped out due to poor economic conditions, illness of a child or a parent, disabilities and the existing long distance between their homes and schools.
The study also calls for a special programme to curb child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in the region as part of the solution.
The project is also expected to revive COBET programme in the Lake Zone region where the founding Father of the Nation, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, was born and brought up and set a good example that can be emulated by other regions to tackle out of school children problem.
Already 432 COBET facilitators have been given a special training ready to participate in implementing the project. The one-month training which ran for the whole of last month was offered at St Antony Vocational Training Centre and Buhare Community Development Training Institute in Musoma.
It involved several highly experienced COBET trainers drawn from Tanzania's education sector under the leadership and guidance of Dr Naomi Katunzi, an education specialist who was instrumental in the initial development of COBET in 1999. According to Wawa, the COBET facilitators were drawn from councils where the project is being implemented in its first year.
"Deployment of the trainee COBET facilitators by the local governments to 247 primary schools will see each new center being run by two COBET facilitators, one being trained teacher and the other para-professional. The graduates will spend April preparing for the arrival on May 1 of the 11,666 out-of-school children recently identified by the Mara Outof- School Children Project survey. The government in Mara Region directed the COBET facilitators to make the Mara Out-of- School Children Project achieve its objectives.
Besides basic education, the project is also expected to build a strong foundation for the future development of the targeted children. Acting Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Method Bonaventura Mkoba, issued the directive during the graduation ceremony of the 432 COBET facilitators held at Buhare Community Training Institute in Musoma Thursday last week.
"Make good use of the training you have got to bring the expected outcome. We are expecting that COBET will change the lives of children who are out of school in our region," Mkoba who was the guest of honour during the event, told the graduands.
He also urged directors of councils as well as officials at the ward and village levels to have a list of all children enrolled to start COBET classes. He thanked the former Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel for supporting the initiative through the Graca Machel Trust.