Reporting by Amelia McKinlay
Access to and completion of secondary education for girls in rural areas of Tanzania can be fraught with difficulties, even danger. This is despite provision of educational opportunity for girls being made a national priority since independence in 1961.
At an individual level, this seriously damages girls’ life opportunities, but more than that, it is bad for Tanzania as a whole. Educating girls benefits society more broadly. Girls who complete secondary school are better equipped to become healthier, more prosperous adults with smaller families and children who are less at risk of illness and death. This observation is common to many developing countries
Many students in rural areas travel long distances to get to school. A UNICEF study estimates that, at the secondary level, the mean distance from students’ homes to their schools is 8.5km in rural areas of Tanzania. Public transport is often both inadequate and expensive leaving children with no other option but to walk. Inevitably, this impacts on their attendance and performance at school, with students tired and unable to focus. A large number of students sadly give up school because of the struggles they face getting to school every day.
For girls, walking to school can be particularly distressing, with ever-present risks of sexual harassment and exploitation. Many girls receive threatening advances from men, and some face high risk of abuse by bus drivers, shopkeepers and other adults who offer them goods and services in exchange for sex.
To prevent travelling long distances to school, some families send their children to stay in lodgings or with relatives close to the school. Alarmingly, this can be an equally dangerous environment. Without the protection of their family, young girls are often left at the mercy of older men resulting in early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Schools in Tanzania force girls to undergo compulsory pregnancy testing and expel girls who are found to be pregnant, give birth or get married.
UNICEF reports that in Tanzania, adolescent pregnancy led to almost 3,700 girls dropping out of primary and secondary schools in 2016. The Economist reports:
“A quarter of Tanzanian girls aged 15-19 are pregnant or have given birth. The government’s response is to kick them out of school for good. Official statistics record that between 2003 and 2011, more than 55,000 girls dropped out because of pregnancy.”
Both say these figures are likely to be vastly underestimated as many cases go unreported or are recorded as simple truancy.
Girls are subject to urine tests at school or taken to a nearby clinic to get checked by health practitioners. If they are pregnant, normal practice is for schools to send a text message or letter to the girl’s parents, and they are expelled for “offence against morality” under Tanzania’s education expulsion regulations.
After the birth of their child it is common for girls to not return to school, even when they have had a miscarriage. President Magafuli has pronounced recently that girls should forfeit the right to education on becoming pregnant. As a result, schools which might previously have readmitted girls, now often fear to do so.
The construction of hostels for girls in secondary schools is an essential step in combatting these issues. In hostels, girls can be kept safe from unwanted male aggression, reducing the likelihood of rape, sexual abuse, early pregnancy and marriage. In districts that have already built dormitories in government schools, there has been an almost immediate reduction in teen pregnancies.
Again, this is backed by evidence from other developing countries, where the establishment of accommodation facilities for girls is a key strategy to promote enrolment and retention of female students in secondary schools; as well as the improvement of examination performance, enhancement of general wellbeing and increased focus and engagement during class.
Sometimes hostels exist, but in poor condition or part-completed, and many lack basic necessities, such as access to adequate sanitation, electricity, security, mosquito prevention and even beds.
Access to electricity is an important component in attracting students, allowing girls to study in the evening and preventing them from using harmful kerosene lamps.
The need to provide adequate privacy and facilities for girls during their periods is a prime driver also in many TDT-funded school latrines.
TDT places a large emphasis on ensuring that the hostels are secure with responsible adult supervision.
TDT has made several grants to schools for hostels in recent years. At each project, there is strong evidence to indicate the hostel is improving the girls’ school results and general wellbeing.
In Manyoni Secondary School, a project was approved in 2009 to build a hostel with local government money but funds ran out before it could be completed. After communication with a young teacher at the school in 2015, TDT chose to fund the hostel until completion. Like many young girls in Tanzania, the students faced the struggles associated with long walks to school and several girls were dropping out of school each year due to pregnancy.
Since completion in 2016, the hostel is now occupied by 42 girls and is equipped with bunk beds, electricity and a matron who is there to help the girls at any time of day.
“I like the life of the school hostel as we are able to share different learning materials and also we have more time for private studies than at home.” – Nsimbo, female student
The girls now live in a safe environment in which to study, eat, relax and sleep. The hostel has had a profound impact on the girls’ education and there have been improvements in exam results and a reduction in pregnancy.
“Now I can see the benefits of my daughter to live at the school hostel rather than renting street houses because she is now performing very well and she has a good discipline with the tendency of studying hard every day even during school holiday at home” – Mama Anna, parent of a female student.
At Ngasamo Secondary School, a £6,000 grant was given to refurbish the hostel. Many feel the refurbishment of the hostel has had a positive impact on the whole community. The parents are extremely enthusiastic about the project, encouraging an interest in the girls and placing a greater significance on their education.
At Kilimantinde, a rural secondary school in Manyoni district, TDT received a request to refurbish the girls’ hostel. The 52 girls had no beds – only mattresses on the floor – so that hanging mosquito nets was difficult. There were no windows or window netting to prevent mosquitoes from getting into the dormitory. Our grant of £2,041 enabled 26 double bunks to be constructed, and windows to be replaced and covered with mosquito wire. Kevin Curley visited the hostel and found lots of happy girls with new beds and a mosquito free environment.
At Ikondo Secondary School, a legacy from BTS member Hugh Wenban Smith, and family donations in his memory, enabled us to fund bunk beds, completion of unfinished latrines and provision of a water tank. (Pictured below is TDT officer Janet Chapman with matron Asela and girls outside the newly renovated Ikondo hostel.) Additionally, they provided an electricity connection and a new security door at Kilimantinde. Through the girls, Hugh’s legacy will therefore become a living legacy.