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The Tanzanian government should allow children access to secondary school regardless of their final primary school exam results, Human Rights Watch and the Tanzania Child Rights Forum said today in a letter to the education minister.

Passing the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) is currently required for access to public secondary education in Tanzania. But morethan 400,000 children, or 49.4 percent, failed the exam in 2013.

“All Tanzanian children should have access to secondary school, whether they excel or not,”said Juliane Kippenberg, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Using the primary school exam as a selection mechanism violates a child’s right to education.”

The government is currently considering a new education and training policy that would make secondary education compulsory up to form four at about age 17. The new policy does not mention the PSLE.  

“The government should adopt the new education policy now and ensure that the primary school exam is no longer used to block pupils’ entry into secondary school,” said Eric Guga, coordinator of the Tanzania Child Rights Forum. “And secondary schools will need to be better equipped to enroll and teach significantly larger numbers of students.”

The use of exams to assess performance is a legitimate and crucial educational tool, the organizations said. However, the PSLE should be used as an assessment tool, not a selection mechanism. 

The primary school exam may contribute to other children’s rights violations. For example, Human Rights Watch found in an investigation last year that children who failed the exam were at greater risk of becoming involved in hazardous child labor in small scale gold mines.

Under Tanzanian law and international conventions that Tanzania has ratified, everyone under 18 has a right to education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child encourages making various forms of secondary education available and accessible to every child. Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, secondary education “shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means,” and not be dependent on a student's apparent capacity or ability.

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