Sara David would have loved to continue with school and fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher so that she could help her community at Nkonkilangi village in Ntwike ward, which is found 88 kilometres from Iramba District, Singida region.
However, that dream was shattered as soon as the 15-year-old completed her Standard Seven in 2016 and was forced to look for a job to support her poor family. “When the results were out my grades weren’t good so my parents took me to a private school outside the region but since we could not afford the school fees, I had no option but to start working at the Sekenke mining site to support my family,” explains Sara, the eldest of three siblings.
Human Right Watch report 2017 titled “I Had A Dream to Finish School’’ shows that many children are barred because they fail the compulsory primary school leaving exam. This is because those who fail are not allowed to retake the exam, failing it once typically ends their school years. Since 2012, exam results have affected approximately 1.6 million children’s access to secondary education. Most have not been allowed to repeat Standard 7, the final year of primary school. Once out of school, many adolescents lack realistic options to complete basic education or pursue vocational training.
This has been the case for Sara, who is extremely aggrieved to see other girls of her age going to school as she works at the mining site. “I see my dreams shattered, unable to go to school because of poverty. I want to study and become a teacher or a scientist,” she comments adding that she works for more than eight hours a day, “I stop working in the evening because this place is not safe for girls to stay up until dark, I earn less than Sh7000 per day by doing different types of jobs around the mining site including cleaning the sand mine, this amount helps out at home to buy food, she explains with a sad expression on her face.
Sara’s case is one among many cases facing young girls especially in the developing world. Many researches have shown that during adolescence, factors such as menstruation, gender-based violence, and early pregnancy and marriage force many girls to drop out of school. Other obstacles prevent girls from even making it to school in the first place, including poverty, disability, and cultural practices.
The case is the same for Evelyn Mushi*, 19, a mother of one who was forced to stay out of school at the age of 13 because of extreme poverty that existed in her family. Being the first born in a family of five, Evelyn spent most of her teen years caring for her siblings and her family including finding jobs near the lake shore to earn money to support her family.
Meeting her for the first time at her home village in Doromoni which is located at Tulya ward in Iramba District, Evelyn looked older than her age, a sign that she has worked hard to make a living in the toughest way possible..
“Life hasn’t been easy for me and my family, because of poverty. I couldn’t continue with school since my family and I had to work hard to earn a living. Poverty has seen many of my friends move to town to look for jobs, but for me, I had to come and work here at lake shore which I have been doing for years. I was born in a poor family that could sometimes go without food although I was lucky to attend primary school, I didn’t continue with school because my parents couldn’t afford some school expenses and my parents didn’t see the importance of education saying they would marry me off,” she sadly explained.
Evelyn adds that she has been working on the shores of the lake by scrapping fish scales for customers who have come to buy fish from the shore. “I don’t earn much but it’s enough for me to support my family and my two-year-old child whose father abandoned me. The little I earn takes us through the day but it is not sufficient,” she says as she picks fish from the canoe.
Sara and Evelyn are among many girls who are forced to drop out of school because of poverty which has prevented them from getting education because of the need to work to boost their families’ income and their parents cannot afford to pay extra costs such as uniforms, books and transport.
High cost of education
The recent Human Right Watch report also shows that until recently, many families did not enrol their children in secondary school because they could not afford school fees and related expenses, often costing more than Sh100,000 (roughly $50) per year. But in December 2015, Tanzania’s new government took a crucial step; it abolished all school fees and contributions plus additional charges by schools to pay for the schools’ running costs, previously required to enter lower-secondary schools in the country.
According to the report, two in five adolescents are out of school in Tanzania, even though the country has declared education a national priority and abolished school fees and financial contributions. Lack of money is mentioned to be one of the reasons why education ends after primary school for so many young people. Barriers include exams that limit access to secondary schools, long distances to schools, and outdated policies.
It is estimated that a total of 5.1 million children aged 7 to 17 are out of school, including nearly 1.5 million of lower secondary school age. Instead of enrolling in school, many children resort to child labour, often in exploitative, abusive, or hazardous conditions, in violation of Tanzanian law, to supplement their family’s income. Girls also face many challenges on account of their gender.
Elly Sylvester, Shelui Secondary school head master said poverty has been the greatest barrier to accessing an education particularly for girls. He said most parents, because of poverty are not highly motivated to take their children to school and instead allow them to engage in doing business to make a living.
“The financial burden of education for those living in poverty includes the direct costs such as school fees, uniforms, shoes, books, transportation, and the cost of a child being in school. Due to the location of the school (located along the high way) hence there are lots of business opportunities, what happens is most of these young girls and boys are forced to go and do business so that they can help contribute to the household income. Even if tuition is free, most families earn less for them to afford all the other expenses,” he explains.
In order to help out poor girls stay in school, a number of interventions are needed to make it happen and Janet Mawinza, a gender activist based in Dar es Salaam is of the opinion that any plan to promote education for girls must consider a number of things on how to reduce extreme poverty at the family level.
“To come up with a plan which will look deeply on solutions that will support families who are struggling to survive hence affect girls education, we have to critically think on how to defeat poverty starting at the family level because it holds so many girls back,” says the activist, adding, “some of the interventions that I see can help the poorest girls stay in school include incentive programs, which give financial support to cover school costs, and school feeding programs.”