By Catherine Sinclair-Jones, Country Director, British Council Tanzania

05 December 2022 - 15:00

Young girl seated in the foreground, wearing a checked school uniform dress, out of focus in the background is a boy wearing a checked school shirt.

A new report commissioned by British Council Tanzania examines the attitudes of head teachers and teachers towards girls in the classroom. Here, former country director for Tanzania, Catherine Sinclair-Jones explains the report’s findings and recommendations.

Countries and organisations around the world are prioritising girls’ education and gender equality. In Tanzania there has been considerable effort by the government to ensure all school-age pupils are in full-time education.

Why? Let's turn to UNICEF, who say: "Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families. Girls' education strengthens economies and reduces inequality."

Despite local and global efforts, girls in many countries still trail behind boys in terms of school enrolment, participation, completion and performance. 

In Tanzania, there is less representation of girls at higher secondary level. Enrolment figures show the number of girls remaining in school decreases in each age group as the children get older.

A 2018 report, published by UNESCO and UNICEF, estimated that around two million children, aged seven to 13, were not in school in Tanzania. In addition, almost 70 per cent of children aged 14 to 17 were not enrolled in secondary education, while just 3.2 per cent were enrolled in the final two years of school.

Several factors appear to conspire particularly against girls’ education – globally and locally. Gender discrimination and stereotypes, cultural beliefs, poverty, poor school environments, early marriage and unplanned pregnancies are all barriers. A study by the HakiElimu organisation (2019) found teenage pregnancy is the key factor behind high dropout rates among girls in Tanzania, at both the primary and secondary level.

Our research on girls’ education in Tanzania focused on teachers’ treatment and perception of girls in the classroom, to find ways that girls can be better supported to learn and stay in education.

The research found that there were three key issues that needed to be addressed to help ensure that girls receive an education that is as good as that received by boys.

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Firstly, acting as a ‘gender responsive teacher’ was rarely understood. Teachers viewed gender issues as those linked to biology, such as the provision of period products and physical changes related to puberty.

Secondly, even though head teachers and teachers understood the biological, cultural and social barriers faced by girls, they found it difficult to develop strategies to tackle these barriers as part of their role as educators. Many educators were unsure what tactics they could use to keep girls in education or support them to return to the classroom after leaving the education system.

Thirdly, while educators were keen to support girls’ education, head teachers and teachers demonstrated gender biases. These biases need to be addressed to ensure girls receive fair access to the support they need to flourish in the education system and complete their education. Some educators blamed girls for lack of success at school. A third of teachers said they believed girls tried to ‘seduce’ male teachers. Many teachers also doubted girls’ willingness and ability to learn science subjects. These views echo wider social beliefs and demonstrate the need to provide teachers with training to tackle their learned perceptions of girls.

The findings were disappointing, but during our research we did find that most heads of schools and teachers showed a real desire and willingness to improve their practice through training. The findings also allowed us to develop seven recommendations that would improve education prospects for girls.

1.  Help teachers to understand their own biases

While teachers did show gender bias towards girls, they were keen to learn how to help and support the girls in their classrooms. If teachers understand biased thinking, they are better able to overcome sexism, so improving the education environment for girls.

2. Give teachers strategies to support girls to return to school

Head teachers and teachers said they knew which girls had left the education system, but they struggled to use their position as educators to support girls back into education. Training teachers to help girls who leave school return to the classroom, will help educators bring them back into school and give them the support they need to stay in education.

3. Provide training for teachers on gender responsive teaching and classroom practices

Teachers said that when girls need support, their usual response is to send the girls for guidance and counselling. They did not first tackle girls' problems in the classroom.

Training on gender responsive classroom practices, would give teachers real ownership and responsibility for their female students' education

4. Train teachers in guidance and counselling

Teachers reported they regularly used guidance and counselling to tackle issues faced by girls in their classes. These services were provided by class teachers or teachers with a responsibility for guidance and counselling. We found that often there was little understanding of good practice focused on girls, with counselling often used when a different strategy was needed. All teachers, especially those with special responsibility for the area, need to be trained in when and how to effectively counsel girls.

5. Conduct gender analysis in schools

To make sure schools have effective strategies to tackle the concerns highlighted in the report, gender analysis is needed in schools. Gender analysis examines the differences in the education of girls and boys, such as the resources available to them, their activities, and the issues they face in school. This then enables schoosl to tackle effectively the structural biases that negatively affect girls' education.

6. Help teachers to use neutral, unbiased language to describe issues around girls’ education

Our research found that male and female teachers used language that seemed to place blame on girls, when the focus needs to be on how learning is structured. Teachers need to be given guidance on how to be supportive and stay neutral when working to improve education outcomes for girls.

7.  Provide safeguarding training for heads and teachers

The belief of some educators that girls adopt seductive behaviours in the classroom demonstrates an urgent need for safeguarding training. This will create education settings that are safer for all children and prevent girls’ behaviours from being sexualised by their teachers.

Our research aimed to find promising gender-related practices in Tanzanian schools. We identified a range of challenges faced by girls and teachers. There were areas where we found leadership and teacher training is needed. We did find that educators wished to improve outcomes for girls and were keen to discover new strategies to help their students fulfil their potential. I believe that Tanzania faces similar problems to many countries around the world and that our findings and recommendations will be of interest to many in the global teaching community.

The research was led by Dr Christina Raphael of Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE).

The report ‘Perceptions and approaches of heads and teachers in relation to girls’ education in Tanzania’ was a collaboration between the British Council and Dr Raphael and the DUCE team (also supported by the Education Development Trust). 

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