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(Dar es Salaam) – 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 98-page 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.

Female students who are blind, are guided down a steep and slippery hill by their teachers. They have to walk through rough terrain to get from their secondary school to their school’s hostel in Mwanza city. © 2016 Elin Martínez/Human Rights Watch

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).”

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.

According to World Bank data, fewer than one-third of girls who enter lower secondary school graduate. Schools routinely expel female students who are pregnant on grounds of “offenses against morality.” Government regulations
also force girls who are forced to marry before they reach 18 to drop out. An estimated 8,000 girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy. 

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.

Widespread corporal punishment that often takes brutal and humiliating forms in Tanzanian schools also affects school attendance, Human Rights Watch found. Corporal punishment is still lawful in Tanzania, in violation of its international obligations, and happens at alarmingly high rates, according to the African Child Policy Forum. In schools Human Rights Watch visited, teachers routinely used corporal punishment, including beatings with their hands, bamboo or wooden sticks, or other objects.

Female students are also exposed to widespread sexual harassment or, in some schools, efforts by male teachers to persuade or coerce them into sexual relationships. Officials rarely report sexual abuse to police, and many schools lack a confidential reporting mechanism. In 2011, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that roughly one in 10 girls experienced childhood sexual violence by a teacher.

The government should prohibit corporal punishment in schools, and create confidential reporting systems so that students feel comfortable reporting abuse. Government officials should adequately investigate allegations of sexual abuse by teachers and prosecute abusers.

“The government has repeatedly committed to ensuring secondary education for all,” Martínez said. “Now the government needs to open the way for secondary education by ending discriminatory and abusive policies and removing the remaining barriers between many students and a quality education.” 

Selected Quotes

“We’re beaten very hard. If they beat you today, then you’re only going to feel better in two days … One teacher can beat you up to 15 times if they so wish.”
–Rashidi, 18, Mwanza, northwestern Tanzania

“There are teachers who engage in sexual affairs with students – I know many [girls] it has happened to ... If a student refuses, she is punished ... I feel bad … even if you report the matter it won’t be taken seriously. It makes us feel unsafe. Three girls dropped out because of teachers and sex in 2015.”
–Joyce, 17, Shinyanga, northern Tanzania

“There are no Perkins Brailler, no textbooks at all. [The] machines we’re supposed to use … are not functioning. It stops us from doing homework and exercises well. I get notes every two weeks or one month later [than the rest of his class]. It makes me lag behind in terms of excellence in academics – by the time I receive my notes, I’m already two or three subjects behind.”
–Nasser, 18, a Form IV student who is blind and studies at a boarding school in Shinyanga, northern Tanzania

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