MARA region is under a chronic problem of children getting out of schools due to early marriages, poverty as well as bad traditions. However, there is a saying that reads: If you think education is expensive, then try ignorance.
Knowing the seriousness of the problem, leaders in Mara region have decided to deal seriously with the problem that is likely to hatch a serious problem in future by initiating a project known as Mara out-ofschool children Project that fights its way to reintegrate thousands of the children out-of-school.
The situation on the ground is serious as 11, 666 children aged between 7 to 17 are out of school in the region due to various reasons including poverty, child marriage and other bad traditions is indeed alarming. A study that has been carried out recently, has identified by names and locations in four districts of the region.
The districts associated in this chronic problem and the percentage of affected children in brackets are Bunda (33pc), Tarime(31 pc), Butiama (26 pc) and Musoma which recorded 10 per cent.
This crucial study was conducted by the Economic Social Research Foundation (ESRF) under the said project jointly implemented by Graca Machel Trust, Mara Alliance and the Mara Regional Government.
The holistic approach applied targets at ensuring that the identified children get basic education through Complementary Basic Education of Tanzania (COBET) programme popularly known as Memkwa in Kiswahili.
Findings of the study were revealed during a data dissemination and validation workshop held at the Mara Regional Commissioner’s Investors Hall in Musoma recently and officiated by high profile representatives from the three-main project implementing partners.
Former First Lady of Mozambique and South Africa Mrs Graca Machel who is also the founder of Graca Machel Trust was the chief guest during the event. Ms Machel thanked Mara Alliance for bringing together key stakeholders to implement the project that was launched last year.
She said the two-year project is just the beginning of a long journey with a lot of commitment and determination to bring back thousands of children who are out of school in the region. “This is a journey that has just begun.
We need a programme that will last 5-15 years until we are satisfied and comfortable that the problem is over,” Mrs Machel said.
She expressed satisfaction on the progress realised on the project. “Many steps had been taken and I want to thank Mara Alliance for the job well done within a short time and I am also very impressed with the work developed by the researchers,” Mrs Machel said.
She said that the findings of the study will help to bring back the children to school as well as tackling the challenges they face in schools and in the communities so that they do not drop out again. Professor Fortunata Makene from ESRF said poverty was the major reason cited as the cause of out of school children problem during the study.
The study found that majority of the children identified had been to school before but later dropped out due to poor economic conditions, illness of a child or a parent, disabilities and the long distance travelling by pupils from homes and schools.
Prof Makene said it is essential to have an ambitious programme to curb child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in the region as part of the solution. “The big challenge is poverty but it is important for the government to put in place a programme to deal with the problem of child marriage and FGM,” she recommended.
According to Prof Makene who led the research study on behalf of ESRF, the Mara Out of School Children Project is a wonderful vital project that needs to be emulated by other regions to assist children who are out of school in the country.
The Mara regional government assured Mrs Machel that it is committed to continue cooperating fully in order to ensure that the project achieves the intended goal. The assurance was given by Acting Regional Commissioner, Dr Vicent Naano, who is also the Musoma District Commissioner (DC).
Dr Naano, thanked Mrs Machel for teaming up with Mara Alliance and the government in implementing the project that will among other things involve establishment of 215 COBET centres in the targeted districts.
He said the free education policy in public primary and secondary schools is part of efforts being made by the government to ensure that every child has an access to education. Other steps, Dr Naano said include ending shortage of desks and classrooms by involving key stakeholders so as to improve learning environment in public schools.
Mr Fortune Thembo, the Child Rights Programme Manager at Graca Machel Trust said COBET is the wonderful programme developed by the government of Tanzania to give second chance for children who never had a chance to start primary school or dropped out of schools.
COBET was initiated in Tanzania in 1999 by the Ministry of Education with the support of UNICEF. This is a non-formal education second- chance option that fulfills the right for children who never had a chance to start primary school or who dropped out of schools. It helps to mainstream school-age children back into formal system.
“COBET is a wonderful programme that picks children who are down and bring them up and put them in the right direction,” Mr Thembo told the packed data dissemination and validation workshop.
According to him, the out of school children project has two main pillars of bringing the children back to school and keeping them in schools. Dr Naumi Katunzi, the COBET Education Specialist Consultant and Advisor at Graca Machel Trust said 215 COBET centres will be established under the project within the targeted district councils this year. “The centres will be located in areas which are close to the identified out of school children so that they should not drop out again,” she said.
Already, Dr Katunzi said more than 400 teachers had been trained to teach the targeted children with COBET classes expected to commence early next month in various centres. Majority of the teachers are from public schools where the centres will be established and a few are form four and form six leavers who had received a special training, according to her.
Earlier, the Bishop of Roman Catholic Diocese in Musoma Michael Msonganzila said it was good news that Graca Machel Trust, Mara Alliance and the Mara Regional Government have teamed up to help children who are out of school get basic education.
“We are learning so much as we participate in the process to reach out the 20,000 children who are out school. We sincerely hope that through this project we can be a source of both hope and blessing so that all children do have the chance to attend school and prepare for their future lives,” Bishop Msonganzila who is also the chair-person of Mara Alliance said.
Mara Alliance is the coalition of faith based, non-governmental, community based organisations, business women and responsible individuals who have come together to respond to drop out of school cases in the region.
A day after ESRF revealed the findings, Mrs Machel visited Nyamisisi primary school where among other things she met and talked to some children who had been enrolled under COBET programme. She urged the children to make good use of the second opportunity they have been given to get basic education.
But more importantly, Mrs Machel urged community leaders and government officials in Butiama to end the problem of child marriage and other traditions that force children especially girls out of schools.
Child marriage, she said is a bad tradition that cut short educational dreams of young girls and put their lives at risk. “Girls must stay in schools until they finish secondary education and even go to universities and become doctors,” she emphasized. “No child marriage, no child marriage.
It is up to you leaders to help. This tradition risks our children, every child has a right to grow up until she decides when to get marriage and by who,” Mrs Machel noted.
Mrs Machel said her institution is committed to continue working with Mara Alliance and the Mara regional government to make Butiama a role model place that is free from child marriage and other bad traditions that affect children.