Demographic dividend: Why investing in children, youth benefits nation

26Nov 2018
Kenneth Simbaya
The Guardian
Demographic dividend: Why investing in children, youth benefits nation

IF Tanzania acts now to double its investment in women, girls’ health, education, nutrition, and entrepreneurship skills development, children born today could be healthier, wealthier, and more productive, the Guardian has been told.

Pathfinder International Tanzania Country Programs Officer Meshack Mollel presents a paper on Tanzania’s Demographic Scenarios at the 5th International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Kigali, Rwand, recently. PHOTO: Kenneth Simbaya

Tanzania and Africa’s development at large lies with the well-being of its today’s children and youth.

The prospect of socio-economic transformation of the continent rests with investing in the young people of the continent.

Today’s investment in youth and children is tomorrow’s peace, stability, security, democracy, and sustainable development including reaping the demographic dividend.

Tanzania prioritises quality education in its Vision 2025 development agenda of transforming the country into a semi-industrialised middle income economy, Meshack Mollel from Pathfinder International said.

He was speaking recently at a presentation on Tanzania’s prospects of realizing the demographic dividend at the just-ended 5th International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Kigali, Rwanda.

Demographic Dividend refers to accelerated economic growth that begins with change in the age structure of a country’s population a shift to fewer dependent people relative to working age individuals.

It is accompanied by investment, employment, entrepreneurship, education, skills development, health, rights, governance and youth empowerment.   

Meshack said a well educated and skilled labour force is essential in propelling the country to a semi industrialised middle income status as envisioned in Tanzania’s Development Vision 2025.

“High quality education is a key pillar of the vision and is viewed as an enabler in responding to the country’s development challenges and positioning it to be effectively competitive regionally and globally,” Meshack added.

However, he said for children to perform better in schools, investment is needed to ensure that national laws and regulations promote early learning (pre-primary school).

According to him, the country’s laws require that all children are guaranteed access to two free years of pre-primary school, however the attendance and quality are questionable.

By law, he said, all public primary schools are required to have at least one pre-primary classroom for children to attend school, but severe shortages of pre-primary classrooms at the school level are constraints to quality universal preprimary education.

This challenge is further exacerbated by increased demand, which has led to further overcrowding of classrooms and hence compromising the quality of education in both pre- and primary schools.

Early childhood education needs to start at home, parenting programmes (during pregnancy, after delivery and throughout early childhood), high-quality childcare, especially for working parents, pre-primary school (preferably at least two years with developmentally appropriate curriculum and classrooms, and quality assurance mechanisms) is essential.

In Tanzania, there are no compulsory parenting education or support programmes for parents, though elements of parenting education are incorporated into some health, nutrition and community-based programmes, The Guardian has learnt.

Over the last few years, Tanzania has taken deliberate efforts to boost girls’ (tomorrow’s women) educational attainment. Experts say investing in women’s education is the single most influential investment that can be made in the developing world as education boosts human capital.

Education is equally important in spill-over effects including increased modern contraceptive use, smaller families, improvements in children’s health and schooling, an expert preferring anonymity said.

However, provision of better education to young people and children born today hinges on understanding whether a large family is an asset or a curse, understanding that a high birth rate and development are mutually exclusive.

In our African culture and probably globally, children are a great source of joy to their parents and an asset to each society. But for children to be an asset and bring joy to the family, it is not automatic, some investment needs to be made and one of the crucial investments is quality education, quality education from early childhood to tertiary level.

This means that families must invest in their children’s education so as to prepare them to be productive in later years and get the human capital needed to catapult Tanzania to the next level of the economy which the country desires.

According to Children in Crossfire (CiC) Tanzania Country Director Craig Ferla, the time from when a woman gets pregnant to the second birthday of a child determines the child’s health, ability to learn in school and to perform at a future job because it is when the brain of the child grows most.

This is when early childhood development education to parents becomes crucial, as it is critical to manufacturing the best human capital the country needs.

A scientific medical journal, ‘The Lancet’ says that a staggering 43 per cent of children under five years of age, an estimated 250 million living in low and middle-income countries, are at the risk of suboptimal development due to poverty and stunting.

A poor start in life can lead to poor health, nutrition, and inadequate learning, resulting in low adult earnings as well as social tensions.

Negative consequences impact not only present but also future generations, because of this poor start, affected individuals are estimated to suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year while countries may forfeit up to twice their current GDP expenditures on health and education.

For Tanzania to harness the demographic dividend, according to James Mlali from Advance Family Planning, investing in human capital becomes more critical now than at any other time in the country’s history.

Policy makers need to come up with policies that focus on people. People empowered by education are better able to provide for their own economic progress and therefore for the future of their country. This is particularly true for women and girls who can attain a different status in family and community through education.

“Educated women are more assertive, have small families,” James told The Guardian recently, adding that education is not only the best contraceptive, but also the best instrument to achieve gender equity.   

Samweli Msokwa from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Tanzania told The Guardian that for girls transitioning to secondary and tertiary education, having children comes later and at greater intervals.

“Secondary education for girls has greater impact on fertility,” Msokwa said when reacting to what Tanzania needs to do to harness demographic dividend potentials.

“Women’s level of education does not only affect the number of children, but also their well-being. A child with fewer siblings has a greater chance of attending school than one with more siblings,” he said.

According to him, children’s health is dependent on the mother’s education because mothers who are able to read and write have their children vaccinated more frequently and pay attention to their needs more attentively.

A recent report on the Human Capital Index by the World Bank says that 56 per cent of children born today across the world will lose more than half their potential lifetime earnings because governments are not currently making effective investments in their people to ensure a healthy, educated, and resilient population ready for the workplace of the future.

It says human capital, knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives has been a key factor behind the sustained economic growth and poverty reduction rates of many countries in the 20th century, especially in East Asia.

It advises the country to change the proportion of the working age against the dependent age groups. Every nation’s socio-economic development depends on the productive age group of its population.

Tanzania's 2012 Census and recent 2018 Population Projections released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), young dependents aged between 0 and 24 years (infancy to college age) form about 63% of the population. Elderly dependents (retired citizens) make 3.9% of the population, making the total dependent group 67% (66.9% to be exact).

Therefore, the productive age group (aged between 25 and 64 years) remains around 33%, without taking into account who among 33% are employed, their nature of employment, chronically ill, and people with disabilities.

To change this population structure it is important to invest in family planning, as family planning promotes accelerated demographic transition through rapid fertility decline which can enable the nation to have a larger working age population and a lower young dependent group.

Currently, a Tanzanian woman of reproductive age has an average of 5.4 children (rounded up to 6). Tanzania aims to decrease this average to 5.0 by 2020

All three demographic and health surveys (DHS) conducted by NBS have shown that fertility, as one of the important components of population change, is slowly decreasing in Tanzania. The latest DHS was released in 2015.

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