Salum Rashid is a 15-year-old boy. He lives with his parents in the rural village of Msuka in the Pemba North Region, where life is difficult for many families with limited access. Most of the villagers are fishermen or farmers and a few are employed in the public sector.
Although Salum had to walk few kilometres to the nearest school, in actual fact he does not attend classes. At his age, Salum would have been in secondary school.
Instead, he works as a beach boy, cleaning fish on the shore of the village with little payment. By time he goes back home in the evening he has earned up to Sh10,000.
When I met with Salum and asked him why he chose the job he was doing instead of going to school, he said that his family could not afford the school fee.
“My father could not afford to pay for the uniform. The government has announced free education for every child, but families have to share the costs. Many rural families cannot afford these costs,” he said.
Salum is one of the thousands of children who are out of the formal education system due to various obstacles including financial difficulties of families to afford the costs of education.
Salum’s difficulties are not unusual in Zanzibar, where despite political stability and economic growth, the government is challenged in extending services mostly to rural communities.
Poverty and relative isolation make essential services, particularly education, almost inaccessible to many children.
“I have no means to take care of my child. I have no job, my income depends on agriculture which is uncertain because of climate change,” Salum’s father lamented.
Beside Salum, he says there are his two younger siblings aged four and six, who are not yet enrolled in school.
Mapping of school capacity to absorb out-of-school children in Zanzibar conducted in 2019 by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training with UNICEF technical and financial support and the Milele Zanzibar Foundation, revealed that approximately 140,000 children between the ages of 4 and 15 years were found to be out of school.
This figure is more than double the 58,608 primary school standard one children enrolled in public and private schools in 2020.
According to ministry’s and international development reports, children drop out of schools because of many reasons including deficit of motivation, skills, family support, and financial resources. For girls, early marriages and pregnancy are assumed factors.
The fate of Salum and his age mates to access education is in the hands of government and international organisations committed to send students back to schools.
Last week, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and Qatar based Educate A Child (EAC) inked a Sh7 billion agreement to make a real change for children like Salum.
Working within a national framework, EAC will support over 35,000 school drop-outs in Zanzibar to resume classes.
The project will involve construction of 100 classrooms and equip them with school supplies and teaching materials. In addition, children will receive school kits.
At the beginning, project partners realized that it was not enough to build classrooms but they will closely work with the parents of formerly out of school children to ensure that they understood the value of education for their children’s future.
The project will organise community events to bring people together while teachers will also be trained to be more skillful and encourage children like Salum to stay in school.
Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Simai Mohammed Said, said the ministry will closely cooperate with the development partners to strengthen the education sector to ensure access to quality education.
He said the project is in line with the 2006 Zanzibar education policy which guarantees the right to compulsory education from nursery to form four for all children.
He said the ministry would work with local government authorities and education stakeholders to ensure drop-out children were helped to resume classes
Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Ali Khamis Juma, said the project will target all school-age children who for various reasons had dropped out of school.
Dr. Mary Joy Pigozzi, EAC’s Executive Director, said they will ensure no child was left behind and they will work with the ministry to meet the project’s goals.
This project is expected to increase student enrolment annually and thus double this fiscal year’s ministry budget of Sh250 billion.