Girls initiative keeps 14,000 in school

SCHOOLGIRLS of Chinsali Secondary School when officials from the Ministry of General Education visited the school. PICTURES: ABEL SIMBEYE/MOGE

WHILE social roles for boys and girls are clearly defined in most African social contexts, over the years, it has been observed that this tends to disfavour girls in society. Traditionally, there

are stereotypes that disadvantage girls. The boy is considered more valuable than the girl as the belief is that once educated, he will take care of the family. A girl is only viewed as a source of income when she is married off because of the dowry.
These issues of inequity are some of the major reasons why in rural areas, girl education still remains a daunting task. In most cases, especially in rural areas, girls lack mentorship programmes. However, the underlying source of early marriages and pregnancies is poverty.
Furthermore, the 2015 Educational Statistical Bulletin indicates that only half of the girls who drop out of school because of pregnancies return to school after giving birth. The bulletin also indicates a high number of girl school drop-outs due to pregnancies and early marriages.
While Government has undertaken massive projects of constructing new secondary schools across the country, building adequate education facilities is still a big challenge as most of the pupils in rural areas have to contend with limited boarding spaces, coupled with long distances to trek to school.
The high number of early pregnancies and marriages, especially in rural areas, has necessitated Government to put in place structures and systems offering counselling, guidance and other forms of support.
Government places great importance on issues of equity and gender and in dealing with such issues, it realised that the girl child was disadvantaged. That is why the re-entry policy was introduced. The policy aims at, among other things, “providing opportunities to girls who dropped out of school as a result of pregnancy to be able to go back to school after delivery” (Review of Re-entry Policy, 1997:1). According to this policy, girl education is important as it empowers the girl and results in considerable reductions in infant mortality and morbidity and many other benefits.
Ministry of General Education (MoGE) permanent secretary Henry Tukombe notes that although this affirmative action was implemented 10 years ago, it has however not yielded the desired results. The number of girl-child drop-outs over the years has increased.
“In response to this great challenge, in June 2016, Government implemented the Girl’s Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood (GEWEL) project with the support from the World Bank. GEWEL aims at enhancing social protection programmes that are specifically targeted to empower poor and vulnerable girls and women in the country,” Mr Tukombe explained.
The project has three components; Keeping Girls in School (KGS) initiative Supporting Women’s Livelihood (SWL) and Institutional Strengthening and Systems building (ISS). It is being implemented in three line ministries that have specific roles in promoting girl education and women’s livelihood.
The Ministry of Gender generally oversees all projects which look at women and girls in the country. Among other programmes that the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (MCDSS) looks into is that of social protection for girls known as the Social Cash Transfer Scheme. This is a social welfare system of identifying the most vulnerable and poor households in communities.
Through this scheme, Government supports economically disadvantaged girls through bursaries to keep them in school. It is through this scheme that MoGE is implementing the KGS initiative.
Mr Tukombe further explains that KGS covers 16 districts across the country, targeting 14,000 secondary school girls, from the Social Cash Transfer Households (SCTHH). This year alone, the targeted number is 7,000 and the ministry has already enrolled about 6,738 as of May 2017.
The GEWEL project is funded by World Bank at a cost of US$65 million and it will run from June 2016 – 2020. The KGS initiative has a budget of US$25.78 million. Other projects by MCDSS and Ministry of Gender take up the remaining chunk of the budget.
The 16 districts and the number of girls being sponsored in each district were identified through the earlier noted social welfare programme at MCDSS. These include Itezhi Tezhi with 424 girls already receiving support, Lufwanyama 561, Petauke 477, Lunga 145, Samfya 532, Mafinga 404, Shiwang’andu 450, Mufumbwe 616, Chavuma 344, Chilubi 246, Mungwi 745, Gwembe 201, Lukulu 821, Mitete 206, Nalolo 254, and Luangwa 312.
“This number of beneficiaries from poor households was provided by MCDSS. This figure, however, includes girls that dropped out of school. Eligible girls are drawn from districts that rank lowest on the index in terms of poverty incidence, enrolment rates, including orphans and vulnerable children. Government is mainly implementing schemes that help orphans and vulnerable children to access education which is facilitated through the KGS initiative at MoGE,” Mr Tukombe further explained.
He pointed out that various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and cooperating partners (CPs) are providing support to cover secondary school fees for the most vulnerable learners.
He also noted that in executing this initiative, the ministry has, however, encountered challenges in that, even with the available school fees to keep girls in school, most of them could not afford to buy basic requirements to enable them go back to school. It has also been noted that most of them keep away from school during monthly periods as they are not able to afford sanitary towels.
Therefore, this initiative will also cover additional support which should include a stipend, provision of sanitary pads as well as the purchase of books, shoes and uniforms.
Furthermore, the KGS will ensure that girls are trained in negotiating, life and income-generating skills, this training will be sponsored by other NGOs such as ChildFund and Innovations for Poverty Actions (IPA). These trainings are important as they will equip the girls to deal with cultural practices that disfavour them such as when they are forced into early marriages.
Key to the success of this initiative, is the need for reliable accurate data of pupils in impoverished households in the country. Therefore the initiative is envisioned to build capacity within MoGE by strengthening the information management system as well as monitoring and evaluation at headquarters, provincial office, district education board secretary (DEBS)’s office as well as the local community. This will be achieved by training planning and standards education officers in the aforementioned programmes.
Drawbacks to this initiative are that there are some households that deliberately hold back due to wrong perceptions about the financiers of this project. Some parents think that the provision of such financial support is done by satanists, resulting in their children missing out on sponsorship. Others do not provide detailed information on the actual number of girls that are vulnerable in fear that the bursary support may be cut off.
Other challenges are that it is difficult to trace some of the children despite using community and district members who are involved in the social welfare system. Also, at a time of enrolment, a number of girls were reported nursing their children while others were pregnant resulting in them not being enrolled.
It has also been noted that in some cases, girls do not want to go back to school because they want both school and marriage. This is against the campaign against child marriages as this might encourage more girls to go into early marriages. The aim is to empower girls to be in school and not necessarily support them when they are married. Therefore the MoGE is exploiting other ways of keeping such girls in school through the directorate of open and distance education.
To reduce the long distances covered by pupils and increase access to secondary education, the ministry is constructing zonal secondary schools. In every place that has a primary school, a secondary education is being constructed. In this vein, 221 primary schools are already being converted into secondary schools as a way of providing sufficient education facilities to the learners.

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