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Unesco project saves disadvantaged children out of school system

THE government has been taking a number of initiatives to improve infrastructure, learning and teaching environment in learning institutions, with the aim of improving the education sector in the country, which deserves a pat on the back.

Equally, it has gone an extra mile by providing free education from primary to secondary education (O-Level) in public schools to ensure that every child in the country has access to basic education. Since the introduction of free education, pupils’ enrollment has increased by 35.2 per cent at primary education level.

But despite all these efforts, a significant number of Tanzanian children are still out of school system as a result of a number of factors, which include distance a pupil has to walk to and fro in search of education, and shortage of teachers among others.

While addressing the challenges which keep children out of school, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in December 2017 came up with a pilot project that was experimented in Tanga Region.

Dubbed Global Learning Xprize, the project aimed to help children who are out of school system to have equal access to basic education. Here, the children were provided with tablets equipped with education software to help them learn on their own to acquire basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The 15 month project was implemented in six districts of the region, Mkinga, Muheza, Handeni, Korogwe, Lushoto, and Pangani in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, World Food Programme (WFP) and the Global Learning Xprize.

Presiding over the event, Tanga Regional Education Officer, Ms Mayasa Hashimu during the handover of the project recently said that the programme has benefited even children who were not part of the project.

“Since this programme allowed children to learn on their own, it attracted even those who had no plan of going to school,” she said. The project was concluded in April this year and handed over to the government by Unesco recently at a ceremony held in Korogwe District, Tanga Region.

Speaking during the handover ceremony, Tanga Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Ms Zena Said said the scheme has helped to motivate underprivileged children to acquire basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, while the society benefited in different ways, including using solar power to charge their mobile phones as well as use it for lighting.

“There are more children who were not part of the project, but have benefited from the tablets,” the official said, adding: “That’s why it is important for the project to be reviewed so that many children can benefit from it. Successes that will be registered in the second-phase will help us to convince the government to spread the project across the country,” she said.

She said then, about 2,500 children were provided with tablets, despite them being the sole targets. Expounding, the RAS said that children who benefited from the programme will be enrolled in satellite schools with further aim of incorporating them in the country’s education system.

She however said that the government will embark on the second phase implementation of the project and obtain more information. “We are going to conduct another phase of this project in Tanga Region, basing on the experience we gained in the first phase, before submitting our recommendations to the government,” she noted.

Ms Said further said: “During the second phase, children will learn using the tablets which will be made available at the satellite schools contrary to the first phase, where they were only provided with hardware in their families. The children will also be assisted by our teachers to make the project more effective.”

On his part, UNESCO Head of Office and Representative, Tirso Dos Santos said that the project has proved that given the appropriate Information Communication Technology (ICT), tools and software, children can learn on their own to write, read and acquire basic skills.

He said that despite various efforts being undertaken by the government to improve the education sector in the country, many children are still out of the school system. “However, the key question in the project was ‘whether by using the software, are children able to learn on their own?

We are happy to have come to the conclusion that given the appropriate ICT tools and software, children can indeed learn on their own by using tools which are designed in a way that motivate them to play throughout the process and therefore find learning enjoyable,” he said.

Santos said that Unesco handed over the project to the government for sustainability after sharing knowledge and achievements, including a number of education stakeholders so that it keeps on influencing and supporting children with limited access to education in remote and underprivileged communities so that they can resume such classes.

Speaking during a roundtable meeting to discuss the results of the field test, Mr Santos said that the project revealed that before it was implemented, less than 10 per cent of the children could read one word, but after the project, the number of children who used the tablets were able to read over 60 percent of the words.

Mr Santos further noted that in reading a sentence, less than 5 per cent of the children could read, but after the experiment the number jumped significantly.

“We also tested the children on writing a sentence before the project, where only a few managed, but the number jumped to over 80 per cent after the case study. “Therefore, the conclusion is that indeed children with limited access to education can learn on their own using such software,” he said.

He said that the issue of children being out of school was not specifically addressed in Tanzania like in many other countries. However, the problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children globally, who are not able to read or write, noting that one in five children around the world are not in school.

“The problem of access is compounded by shortage of teachers, at the primary and secondary school levels. Some research cited by Xprize indicate that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with primary and secondary education by 2040,” he said.

He noted that the solutions will be open-sourced so that anyone can improve on them and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed.

For his part, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Dr Leonard Akwilapo said that the test required each product to be field-tested in Kiswahili to reach nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

“We have been doing this to out of school pupils for them to self-learn through the hardware that was supplied to them….there were a lot of children who were out of school, and it has been a great concern to the government. We want to make sure that we reach everyone with education to make sure that they gain skills in reading, writing and arithmetic,” added Dr Akwilapo.

He said that although the plan in the programme was for children to learn on their own, but still they require support from the public in terms of parents and guardians skilled in such software skills for learning to be more effective.

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