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Keeping the girl child in school longer

“She was very inspirational person and encouraged all of us to excel in school,” she said, adding that Ms Kamugisha inculcated among her students the culture of teamwork.

Like Eng. Bagenda, most top performers can name at least one school that has played a significant role in their academic development either through the teachers who taught them or the facilities found at the schools

. On the contrary there are many schools in the country that lack vital facilities and this brings about a paradox in the education system. School is where students spend their most of their productive years gaining knowledge and the more conducive the school environment the better the students will succeed.  

Born into a family of six and raised by a single mother Bagenda dreamt of becoming an engineer ever since she was a little girl and was inspired by her uncle who was an engineer.  Ms Bagenda knew her chances of completing secondary school hang partially on her mother’s ability to provide.

She recalls how hard it was for her mother, a teacher at a rural primary school to support her and her siblings after their father passed away in 1984. One thing that stands out significantly in Bagenda’s memory is the long distance like many boys and girls in rural schools, had to walk to school.

As an adult today, she notes that education for girls is the keystone to development adding that studies have shown that the benefits of educating girls are likely to produce significantly greater societal and familial benefits than educating boys only. 

The lack of resources, inadequate infrastructure, abysmal funding are some of the barriers that bring about great concern, there are many other challenges that might prove to be even harder to solve. 

In rural areas, for example, parents are sometimes hesitant in allowing their girls to walk long distances to school, for fear of sexual harassment from men and boys and that is why it is important for more hostels to be built so that more girls may continue with school. 

The lack of hostels for students especially girls is the main reason a campaign by Tanzania Education Authority to build 30 hostels for girls in eight regions was launched recently.  The Deputy Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu strongly believes that educating the girl child is one of the major ways of fighting poverty.

Under the fundraising drive in Kibaigwa Ward in Kongwa District 37.2m/- was collected in cash and pledges, a few millions short of the 40m/- which was the target of the day. The regions that will benefit from this programme include Dodoma, Kigoma, Lindi, Mwanza, Tanga, Manyara, Ruvuma and Mara. Ms Mwalimu says that lack of hostels makes many girls drop out of school.

She said in 2010 a total of 728,522 girls dropped out and that there is a 74,000 increase the following year which is a 9.2 per cent rise. She says that in 2009 11,264 girls dropped out of school citing that solutions are needed to check this trend, taking into account that education is a catalyst to development. 

"Investment in education is one of the best ways of fighting poverty in developing countries. Irrespective of what is said, the ward schools in the country have made a big impact in the country. According to statistics there is a high probability that a girl who drops out of school may end up giving birth every year," she stressed.

Ms Mwalimu is thankful to TEA for their creativity in coming up with a programme for building hostels as it supplements government's plans of building 100 hostels by 2015. According to the TEA Director General , Ms Rosemary Lulabuka, TEA feels that there is a need to join hands and assist the government.

Ms Lulabuka notes that through TEA, the same school, Kibaigwa Secondary School received books worth 3m/- and that TEA would continue assisting the school.  "We are aware of the many challenges that government faces and know that the government cannot do everything," she said. 

The TEA Chairperson, Dr Naomi Katunzi adds that the programme will benefit seven other secondary schools and specifically target the girl child because of the numerous hurdles that the girl child goes through. 

"Between 2008 and 2010, 16,686 school girls became pregnant and this in anyone's book is a very high number and we believe that construction of hostels will go a long way to reduce the numbers," she said. 

Kongwa Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Job Ndugai notes that children have to walk up to five kilometres from their homes to school and back daily, a situation that desperately necessitates the need for more hostels.

Mr Ndugai says that come 2014, the Kibaigwa Secondary School plans to have ‘A’ Level streams, as well construct another school. Perhaps, such an initiative by TEA to fundraise for hostels will help to keep more girls in school and produce more   women engineers in this country. 

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Author: ORTON KIISHWEKO

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