Sunday, January 22, 2012

Schoolgirl pregnancies: Big threat to education sector in Manyoni District

The following article was written in a Tanzanian English newspaper back in September.  This article highlights just one of the many challenges that my students in Tanzania face.  Unlike in the United States, Tanzanian adolescents are not given health or life skills classes.  As of now, I am unsure if I will be able to teach the grade 9 students sexual education, but from the article below, you can begin to see why it is imperative that I try!
In spite of efforts by the government to improve provision of quality education, the sector still faces many shortcomings that need to be tackled for success.  According to different research activities conducted by both public institutions and non-governmental ones, many secondary schools face a big shortage of hostels (dormitories for students).
One explanation to this problem is lack of proper planning as schools keep receiving more student than their actual capacities.  In rural areas, there is the challenge of students walking long distances to and from school.  The problem, in turn, has been breeding other problems, especially for girl students.  Instances of girls being raped on the way back home have been reported many times.  At times, such cases lead to early pregnancies and dropping out of school.  The same applies to some boys who end up being lured into absconding classes and engaging in other unbecoming behaviors such as smoking marijuana. 
A survey by a group of journalists who were in Manyoni District, Singida Region found out that due to lack of hostels (or limited space) in schools, some parents have opted to rent houses for their children close to schools so they would stay there.  In such cases, students then end up living in the streets where they have to take care of themselves.  Most of the time such circumstances coupled with lack of proper guidance, girls end up engaging in sex.  If they are lucky, they only become pregnant, but in other cases, some catch sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV.
One girl named Elizabeth, a form four (grade 11) student says life is difficult for her because she lives in dangerous circumstances in a room rented for her.  She feels as if her family has forsaken her. Her family lives about 15 km from her school. Therefore, her family decided that it was better for her to rent a room within the proximity of the school, “on the day I received my grade 7 final examination results and that I had been selected to join the school I always wanted, I was very happy and hoped that things would be fine.  But, now that I am here, I feel,” she said. 
“I felt lost because the school I had been selected to join did not have a hostel.  Therefore, my parents rented a room for me, after moving in I started experiencing the many temptations that surrounded me,” said Elizabeth.  Neema, another student said she feels lucky that she  managed to overcome the many temptations saying 12 of her classmates could not make it because of early pregnancy.  Another student, Sai who lives with her family within the proximity of the school argued that students were to blame for the conditions that they found themselves in.  She said that many a girl could overcome the temptations if they wanted to.  Instead, a good number of them start the temptations.  “I believe that it is possible for one to be serious on what brought her here….we need to listen to our teachers and parents, this is one strong way to overcome temptations, we need to be courageous and aim to reach very far in education, we must get committed to our studies if we truly want to get to university…but if you want to eat chicken and fries with a soda, then you won’t even get to form four (grade 11),” she said with her face radiating a light of confidence.
Neema Andrea and Neema Jonas are grade 11 students.  What had they to say about students becoming pregnant and general student absenteeism in their school?  Neema Jonas said with a sad face: “it is disappointing that a good number of girls with whom we started form 1 (grade 8) together had to have their education journey cut short because of early pregnancies, while some failed to cope with the long distance they had to walk to get to school each day.”  She said that when they joined high school, their class had a total of 103 girls, but today there are only 22 of them, citing pregnancy cases as the leading factor to dropping from school.  “I live 7km from school, however, I feel lucky that my parents bought me a bicycle that I use to come to school.  There are many temptations on the way, but one needs to be strong and focus on what she wants.” she said.  For her part, Neema Andrea criticized parents and guardians saying that they were the ones to blame for whatever happens to their daughters because some just do not care about them.  Once they pay school fees and other obligations, some parents or guardians thought it was then fine.  Such parents don’t even check their children’s school work or attend parent’s meetings when convened in school!” she said.  She added that most parents in rural areas only think of drinking local alcohol, they get out of their homes early in the morning only to return home deep into the night.  Several days may pass without meeting with children with whom they live under the same roof.
Jon, a principal, said there is an average of 10-14 dropout students per year in his school, mostly due to pregnancies.  He said the school has a population of more than 2,000 students ranging from grade 8 – grade 13, most of whom come from afar, especially those in grades 12 & 13.  He said among the challenges the the school face, pregnancy is the biggest and he thinks it is because there is a lack of reproductive health education, and that the most affected are those in grades 8-11.  He added that lack of hostels and food at school contributed to temptations that trap girl students, in particular.
“Most students come very far, they can’t go back home for lunch, so they stay at school until evening.  Under such circumstances, if a man comes to tempt her with lunch, it is most likely that it would not take long before she falls for him.  I feel bad that my school is the one that leads with girl students becoming pregnant while still in school,” he said.  Mnangwa, the vice principal of another high school said in 2007, he received 71 girls students for grade 8, but only 10 managed to complete high school.  In 2008, a total of 103 students were enrolled, but to date only 22 students remain.  He said that in 2009 the number of students enrolled was 45 and that so far there are only 33 while in the following year, 55 girl students were taken in for grade 8 and currently only 34 are still there.
He said the dropping-out of school problem was complicated by the fact that most parents and guardians were not cooperative with school administration.  “If parents played their full roles, that is, ensure they buy their children all their needs, pay their school fee, follow up on development of their children, consult with teachers, attend parent meetings at school, we would be able to minimize some of these challenges,” he said.
One farmer in a village said poor up-bringing and poverty were among chief causes of absenteeism and girl children becoming pregnant.  She said not many parents care about teaching their children about morals.  “If you allow your girl child to receive money just from anyone, you’re exposing her to danger.  It won’t take long before she runs into problems.  Parents’ should wary of their children bringing them money, strictness is imperative,” she emphasized.
She said poverty was at the bottom of many problems including challenges in education.  She said that there were parents, and in good number, who could not afford buying even school uniforms for their children.  So children would fend for themselves and find ways of obtaining their own school materials and requirements.
She said poverty coupled with drinking habits of some parents only complicated matters of morality in society.  She echoed the hope of the many people this report spoke with that the government and key stakeholders should find ways of addressing the shortage of dormitories in schools more aggressively.  She said that once children are there, they would overcome many of the challenges.

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