But the 109-page report points out that despite the move, more than 40 per cent of Tanzanian primary school leavers are still left out of quality lower secondary school education.
More than 40 percent of Tanzania’s adolescents are left out of quality lower-secondary education despite the government’s positive decision to make lower-secondary education free.
The report, “‘I Had a Dream to Finish School’: Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania,” examines obstacles, including some rooted in outmoded government policies, that prevent more than 1.5 million adolescents from attending secondary school and cause many students to drop out because of poor quality education. The problems include a lack of secondary schools in rural areas, an exam that limits access to secondary school, and a discriminatory government policy to expel pregnant or married girls.
“Tanzania’s abolition of secondary school fees and contributions has been a huge step toward improving access to secondary education,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “But the government should do more to address the crowded classrooms, discrimination, and abuse that undermine many adolescents’ education.”
In 2016, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 220 secondary school students, out-of-school adolescents, parents, education experts, local activists, development partners, and national and local government officials in eight districts in four regions of Tanzania. The research coincided with the rollout of free lower-secondary education for Form I to Form IV students across the country.
According to the report, despite the introduction of free lower secondary education, many students face significant financial barriers such as transport to school, uniforms, and additional school materials such as textbooks.
The report recommends that the government should develop concrete plans to tackle these remaining barriers over time by adopting measures - in line with national resources and international financial support - to ensure more children access free secondary education.
It also recommends that the government should increase school budgets for all education matters out of its own pocket, including the construction or renovation of school buildings, teacher housing facilities, and learning and teaching facilities and materials.
The government should also phase out the use of exams as a filter to select students for secondary education, introduce “partial or fully subsidized transport programmes” for students in urban areas, and “ensure bus drivers are compensated to pick up student passengers,” the HRW report furthermore asserts.
Education has been a national priority for successive Tanzanian governments since independence in 1961, with 22 percent of the 2016-2017 budget allocated for education. However, Tanzania, a low-income country, also has one of the world’s youngest populations, with 43 percent under age 15.
Since 2005, the government has taken important steps to increase access to secondary education, including by committing to build secondary schools in every administrative ward.
However, Human Rights Watch found that in some remote and rural areas of the country, students have to travel up to 25 kilometers to school, and many do not have a secondary school in their ward. Some adolescents were unable to attend school because of other school-related costs, including transportation, uniforms, books, or hostel accommodation.
“School started from January 11, but for me, not yet, because my parents are not [able to] purchase school uniforms, bag, and materials,” a 16-year-old girl in Dar es Salaam told Human Rights Watch. “[They] told me to wait until they get the money … we need 75,000 Tanzanian Shillings (TZS) (US$34).”
Responding to the findings, a representative for the director of education in the President’s Office, Regional and Local Administration, Juma Kaponda, told the Guardian the report should have included “figures as to what extent the issues raised in the study are affecting the learning and teaching environment in schools.”
About 22 per cent of the 2016-2017 national budget has been set aside for the education sector.
According to a World Bank report published in December last year, all primary and secondary schools have been receiving monthly capitation grants in a ‘timely manner’ since December 2015, under the government’s free education policy.
The amount of the grant for each school is linked to their enrolment rates, and currently there are 10.7 million beneficiaries, of which 50 per cent are female.
Many children are barred because they fail the compulsory primary school leaving exam. Because students 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 retake 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.
Human Rights Watch found that school officials conduct regular compulsory pregnancy tests, an abusive and discriminatory practice. In most cases, girls are not allowed to re-enroll after their children are born, or are unable to because of a lack of community support or access to early childhood services.
The government should ban pregnancy testing in schools, end the expulsion of girls who are married or pregnant, and promptly publish a circular instructing schools to allow young mothers to continue secondary education, Human Rights Watch said.
Quality secondary education also remains inaccessible for most adolescents with disabilities. Despite the government’s comprehensive inclusive education plan, schools are often insufficiently equipped or resourced to accommodate children with various types of disabilities.
Most teachers lack inclusive education training.
The government should ensure that students with disabilities have adequate support to enable them to learn on an equal basis with students without disabilities.