Around 5,500 girls drop out of school per year in Tanzania due to pregnancy, according to the World Bank
DAR ES SALAAM, June 22 (Reuters) - Secondary school drop-outs in Tanzania will be offered the opportunity to resume studies in alternative colleges, the government said on Tuesday, part of a shift away from a disputed policy under which pregnant girls were expelled from school.
Such expulsions had increased under the tenure of maverick President John Magufuli, who died in March, according to rights groups who accused his government of discriminating against female students based on a policy that dated back to 1961.
"We are offering an alternative path to education to all children who missed their education for any reason, including those girls who got pregnant while in school, through our Folk Development Colleges (FDCs)," Leonard Akwilapo, a senior official at the Ministry of Education, told Reuters by phone.
New President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who was Magufuli's deputy, has acted quickly to reverse some of his most controversial policies including his dismissal of the COVID-19 pandemic as a supposed hoax and conspiracy.
Last month, she stressed the importance of Tanzanians wearing face masks against the virus. Last week, the World Health Organisation said Tanzania was working to join the COVAX global vaccine-sharing facility, which Magufuli boycotted.
Tanzania is one of only four African nations that have not begun vaccinating their people against COVID-19.
Regarding the new schools policy, Akwilapo said the education ministry wants all 54 of its FDC colleges to be able by January next year to provide secondary education to former school dropouts keen to resume their studies.
He said the move was part of Tanzania's implementation of a $500 million World Bank project launched last year that aims to broaden access to education.
Around 5,500 girls drop out of school per year in Tanzania due to pregnancy, according to the World Bank.
Asked when pregnant girls who were forced to drop out will be allowed to return to mainstream schools, Akwilapo said a decision will be announced after an analysis is completed. He did not say how long the analysis would take.
The World Bank said it had dedicated two-thirds of the project's funds to better and safer learning environments for girls who face greater barriers to learning than boys in many developing countries.
(Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen Writing by Omar Mohammed Editing by Maggie Fick and Mark Heinrich)