BACKGROUND AND SITUATION ANALYSIS.
November 2021 the Government through the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) pronounced the ‘Education Circular No. 2 of 2021’ that allows re-entry of school dropouts due to any reasons including pregnancies back to a formal system of education.
This pronouncement changed the whole situation that was previously described as Tanzania’s position in regard to pregnant school girls.
Again, in February 2022, the Government through the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) issued a ‘Guideline to reinstating students who dropped out of primary and secondary education for various reasons’ which reflects the provisions of the ‘Education Circular No. 02 of 2021’.
Msichana Initiative as an NGO that advocates for equal access to education for all and especially girls’ education, strongly commends the government for this huge step. This is an important and appropriate decision in liberating a Tanzanian child as it provides an opportunity for school dropouts to return to school and complete their studies, but also increases the chances of this group becoming a potential workforce in the near future.
With these compliments, Msichana as a CSO had the opportunity to sit down with other education stakeholders and review the provided Re-entry guideline with the aim of looking at opportunities available for stakeholders’ collaboration with the government in implementation. After a thorough review, we identified several areas that will require further improvement and clarification to facilitate the smooth implementation of the guideline.
The adoption of the Re-entry Policy and Guidelines in Tanzania implies that all school dropouts including young mothers are given a second chance to education and an opportunity to shape their bright futures. Despite this huge accomplishment, there are still some controversies around this issue that are yet to be unpacked including the big question of whether the policy and its guidelines reflect the real context of the country and how it plans to address the public attitude. More importantly, what guarantees the smooth implementation of the policy and its sustainability?
OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY.
- To scope out the understanding and implications of Re-entry.
- Highlight gaps and opportunities for smooth implementation of the Re-entry Guideline.
- Amplify stakeholders’ recommendations to influence and inform gender-responsive policies, plans, and budgets on effective strategies and approaches to administer re-entry of teenage mothers in schools.
The analysis relied on desk survey and reviews of key policy documents, policy briefs, and stakeholders study reports. Triangulation of data sources enabled cross-validation of the main messages emanating from the data and obtaining a broad and comprehensive understanding of the context of re-entry policy for teenage mothers in Tanzania, the status of the policy and guidelines implementation.
- There is no clarity provided by the government on the commitment to set a budget to support the implementation of the Re-entry Guideline and monitor its performance.
- The majority of Tanzanian citizens are not aware of the re-entry policy nor the guidelines issued by the government since February 2022. The young mothers as well are not girls are assured of the mandate of this re-entry –policy and worry that it might be temporal.
- The guideline seems to be silent and not clear in economic support on the welfare of the mother and child. From the family level to the societal level where some of the girls face the challenge of going back to school with little assurance of their well-being. The Re-entry policy is not placing and responding to the specific needs of teenage mothers.
- Teen pregnancies impede girls from finishing school which contributes to perpetuating cycles of generational poverty.
- Reasons that lead to the majority of young girls quitting school are early pregnancy and child labor. The guideline does not clearly show how to fight against these root causes as well as educate young girls to beware.
- Absenteeism itself is a discipline issue that can automatically amount to expulsion or dropout. The guideline allows re-entry for students who dropped out due to absenteeism and another prohibits re-entry for students who drop out from school due to disciplinary cases.
- The re-entry guideline has not specified the responsibilities of other Ministries that in various ways should be involved in the implementation of this guideline including the Ministry of Finance and Planning, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development, Gender and Special Groups as well as the Ministry of Constitution and Legal Affairs. The implementation of this guideline is cross-cutting and thus the exclusion of these ministries will dilute the division of responsibilities and ultimately affect the implementation of the guideline.
- The re-entry guideline does not show or explain the procedures for removing a child who becomes pregnant while at school. The guideline only describes the responsibilities of teachers, parents, and students when returning to school, but it does not explain how she will leave school, what are the preparations for removing her from school, and taking care of the pregnancy until the time of delivery. The silence of the Guideline in this aspect will lead to an unequal decision in different areas.
- The guidelines should include a provision that will allow students to take their national exams if they are known to be pregnant a few months before the exams and it is proven that they are in good health to be able to take the exams.
Findings from country reports for Senegal, Malawi, Namibia, and Tanzania commissioned by the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) have outlined robust recommendations on re-entry policies for teenage mothers.
The reports note a need for broad-based awareness of the readmission policies, which should ideally be driven through a multi-stakeholder approach involving relevant government representatives, civil society, school administrators, religious leaders, and community-based/family structures.
The reports also recommend governments enact policies that support girls’ re-entry—for example, empowering district-level officials to ensure schools readmit girls who want to go back to school and provide friendly environments for these child mothers.
One way of achieving friendly environments is to institutionalize a comprehensive counseling program for teenagers (boys and girls), mentors, and other vulnerable groups in school. There is also an urgent need for a standardized curriculum for mentorship and a training program for both teachers and pupil mentors.
In keeping school dropouts in school, FAWE reports recommend the ministry of education to pay particular attention to child-headed households. What does it mean for them to return to school? What support systems can they access? Without psychosocial support, teenage mothers will drop out of school to fend for and take care of their babies.
In addition to providing counseling, schools should consider daycare support for such girls and, where possible, support teenage mothers and their parents in income-generating activities that support the baby and help retain the teenage mother in school.
We must also move away from the narrative that boys and men are the only perpetrators of teenage pregnancies. Both teenage boys and girls must be part of solution-building. Boys can be community champions for appropriate and effective re-entry policies. Boys and young men can also be community ambassadors to speak against retrogressive practices like child marriage and encourage girls to continue with their education.
- The government of Tanzania through the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) restructured and redesign the Re-entry guideline to accommodate the necessary requirements of sustainability and smooth implantation including; addressing the economic and social needs young mothers face to reduce the burden that is kept upon them that results to giving up their education dreams.
- The government capacitates all necessary stakeholders such as teachers, education officials, parents, and others on the re-entry guideline and how to support school dropouts to cope and feel compatible with changes.
- Stakeholders should consider providing daycare to support teenage mothers in nursing and taking on parental roles while catching up and focusing on their studies.
- In some families, young girls are the only breadwinners and have no one to support them, offering alternative income-generating activities and economic support that will enable them to support their families and will retain them in school both physically and mentally.
- The Government to take initiatives to popularize the Re-entry policy so that it can be widely known by all citizens to avoid anyone missing out on an opportunity to pursue education even after dropping out.
- The Government to address other root causes of School dropout including long distances to schools and others so as to offer relevant solutions.
- The government should also amend the provisions of the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 as ordered by the Court of Appeal to eliminate child marriages as a major cause of child pregnancies that contribute to school dropouts for young girls.
Girls will have two years in which to return to school after giving birth, however, this is not legally binding and girls will continue to be banned from class while pregnant. The two-year window to return to school is necessary to help the girls to be able to catch up in class while also having small time to nurse and adapt to new life transformation. Asking girls to wait until after they deliver only pushes them further from getting an education.