After school fees, another challenge in education
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EDUCATION experts in Tanzania are weighing the power of a text message to improve quality of education at a time the government has scrapped school fees and contributions by parents.

Our Staff writer SYLIVESTER DOMASA had an exclusive interview with Organization for Community Development (OCODE) Project Officer, Ms Tunu Sanga on the organisation’s recent initiative to connect school communities with parents using a text message platform.

Excerpts…

QUESTION: Access to education is a fundamental human right issue in Tanzania, how do you define this as an organisation and what does it mean to children?

ANSWER: Quality education is a constitutional right of every citizen of Tanzania. However, it is also not uncommon for this right to be violated. In its strictest sense, a right is a law. When laws are broken, legal measures are often taken.

Thus, when rights are violated, there are times when litigation should be entertained as an option. To children this foundation means, every one of them regardless of their backgrounds, race, colour, or political affiliations are entitled to the right to education.

We have seen a number of efforts in Tanzania being implemented, the latest being the government’s decision to remove all fees and contributions which barred most of children from poor families to get their constitutional right.

The implementation of free education policy comes as a rescue to such elements that prevented fully provision of education to all citizens.

Q: Where can one draw the line between opportunities and challenge of the free education policy?

A: Just after the government announced the decision to implement free education policy and issuing a circular number 5 to implement the education and training policy 2014, a lot has changed.

This circular states that: “Provision of free education means pupils or students will not pay any fee or other contributions that were being made by parents or guardians, well before the release of new circular.”

This has pushed for more pupil enrollment in public schools. Although it was a huge relief to parents who had not been able to support school developments, it simply pushed them to further abandon all school responsibilities to teachers.

Some parents were not ready to even follow-up on the academic performance of their children thus poor performances. In collaborating with a US based organization Firelight Foundation, OCODE had to implement 3Rs programmes to four target schools such as Buza, Bwawani, Mtoni Kijichi and Kibonde Maji primary schools which started in 2014.

And we’re now seeing the difference that more pupils benefit and the burden to teachers of teaching illiteracy students has greatly been reduced.

Q: As an organisation working to improve quality of education, how do you go about to ensure this challenge does not compromise the quality of education offered?

A: After detecting some gaps, we adopted some community based centres to offer extra curricular trainings to children after school hours. These centres operate near the schools within the community in which we have stationed professional volunteers who are teaching the pupils. We expect that these centres will contribute greatly to improving literacy and numeracy skills among children.

All such efforts have been integrated with the education officers in all the municipalities where we work. In additional to providing training to teachers we’re also linking school community management to identify gaps and challenges in enhancing quality education delivery. There more than 80 children admitted to our first four centres.

Q: Does this meet the demand of improving schools-parent relations which is key to child education performance?

A: Partly, yes. But as an organisation we have also started implementing a special programme that connects teacher with the parents. Sometimes, some parents prove stubborn and not ready to participate in school meetings. This happens despite the fact that the government is paying for everything at the school.

We have a program of sending different messages to parents in reminding and telling them their responsibilities through a programme known as Telerivet This is a strategy to support the children who are struggling in reading, writing and arithmetic initiated after realizing that some children’s capacities in 3Rs are very weak irrespective of their classes, while some of them are completing their respective classes unable even to read and write. The customized SMS help parents to follow-up their children’s learning outcome.

Q: What is your message to the government after its nearly two years of implementing free education policy?

A: It is not a time to point a finger to one another. We must come together as education stakeholders and look into new ways to improve the sector for the betterment of children and the nation.

The country is pushing for industrial development to power its economy into a semi-developed country yet, we need educated professionals to facilitate such movements.

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