She has been inspired by the remarkable performance of girls from other schools, in the national examinations and wants to be part of the winning team.
“I have taken the lead in our class of 54 students since I was in Form One. Science subjects are my favourite and my goal is to excel like the girls in private schools,” she says confidently. However, Dorin faces many hurdles as she sets off for her long and ambitious “educational journey.”
Her school like many other ward schools is grappling with a shortage of science teachers, text books, equipment and amenities. Some people have also branded her fellow students asb ‘bad girls’ who care very little about their education and only look for the slightest excuse to get involved in premature sexual relationships.
The girls’ situation has often resulted in unwanted pregnancies, absenteeism and massive failure as observed in the 2010 and 2011 National Form Four examination results. Last year, for example, according to information given by Ngomeni Secondary School
Headmaster, Mr Rajab Mziray, a total of 114 students failed. Nine girls managed to get Division IV and at least two boys won praise for going home with Division III. However, the poor results have not lowered Dorin’s morale and she says:
“When you have two students with Division III, it means if they had put in more effort, they could have leapt to a Division II or even I. Leading the class gives me hope.” She says there are bright students in other classes who also need support to be able to excel. The only solution at hand is to team up and engage a private teacher for Chemistry and Physics.
“My parents are ready to pay and they are looking for a teacher from a school in Tanga. There are four more students whose parents are willing to contribute towards tuition,” she says. Amina Ali who is in the same school tells a different story. She is in Form Three Arts but her performance is below standard.
It’s a fact she cannot hide as she cannot even pronounce properly the number of her class. Obviously, remedial classes would help her improve but that is not possible as there is no extra time awarded to students after 2.00 pm when classes are officially over. Besides, Amina gets easily exhausted in the afternoon as she takes no breakfast at home and lunch is not provided at school.
With 3,000/- monthly rental fee for accommodation at Kibaoni area added to the compulsory school fees (slightly over 20,000/-), Amina says, it is impossible for her to buy lunch. “I only wish I could go to another school. I’m trying hard and I would like to do better but most of the time I’m frustrated,” says Amina.
Margaret Richard is only in Form One but says is already fed up with the five kilometre walk she has to cover every day, regardless of the weather. “I get drenched during the rainy season as I can’t afford an umbrella. Going to school and returning home under the hot sun is not easy. Girls need a better learning environment,” she says.
Fadhila Juma in Form Four says girls studying at ward schools face similar problems of combining house chores and school work. She insists that any girl who pretends to be enjoying her studies is not being honest. Having lost both her parents, Fadhila stays with her polygamous uncle. The problem is that both of his wives give her orders at the same time. She thus gets confused as whom to obey.
“Frankly, I do not know whether I’m a secondary school student or a non-paid housemaid. My aunts say no girl is allowed to sit down while there is work to be done in the house. I must cook supper every evening after school, I get no time to do homework,” says a sad Amina. The plight of girls in ward secondary schools is summed up by a teacher, Ms Athanasia Gabriel Mtenga of Ngomeni Secondary School. Ms Mtenga herself walks two kilometres to school as there are no teachers’ houses.
She partly attributes the girls’ poor performance to parents’ attitude toward education, saying outdated cultural practices are ruining the girls’ future. A trained teacher, Ms Mtenga says that while there are administrative problems, parents have not played a supportive role.
She sympathises with the girls, saying due to hardships, some have fallen victim to exploitative men who offer them little money in exchange for sexual favours. “Many girls don’t live with their parents. Walking to school or living alone in a rented room does not guarantee them safety. Unfortunately, some parents expect their daughters to fend for themselves,” says Ms Mtenga.
“When you are teaching you notice that some of the girls are absent-minded. If you dig deeper, you may discover that they are in a relationship,” says the teacher. Ms Mtenga has recorded several incidents of girls caught with family planning pills, writing love messages to male teachers.
Others spend nights away from their homes. A lack of concentration and pregnancies are other problems the girls face. She cautions parents against relying on teachers as discipline masters because most of the time the girls are at home with them. “The only solution is to build hostels and dormitories. When you have the girls around the school compound, it is easier to monitor their behaviour and even counsel them,” says Ms Mtenga.
Apparently, no parent openly admits to be facing any hurdles in the provision of education for girls and poverty is the driving factor behind the girls’ erratic behaviour. It is worth noting that Muheza District villagers do not have a regular income and their survival depends mainly on subsistence farming. On average, they harvest maize twice a year but since prices often slump during harvesting, farmers have no guarantee for substantial earnings.
“We throw our energy behind our farms. But we have many family needs and we do not harvest enough to cater for every family member,” says Mama Tatu Yohana, a farmer who has two children in secondary school. Mama Tatu is not convinced that today’s parents would encourage their girls to misbehave, but admits that outdated practices are still found in the community. “Some of the practices are hard to discard because usually they are done in secret.
I’m aware of a woman who ‘sold off’ her daughter, a student to an old man because she desperately needed money,” says Mama Tatu. While girls like Dorin are enthusiastic about education, the challenge for authorities and parents is how to help them excel. Aid organizations step in and lend a helping hand to rural girls. After all, if you educate a girl you educate a family.