World Bank help for Tanzania education may go ahead after all – despite ban on pregnant schoolgirls

Children At Zanaki Primary School In Dar Es Salaam Tanzania
Zanaki Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, received a World Bank School Improvement Grant in 2016. Now the World Bank may help the country redesign a major education project (World Bank / Sarah Farhat)

Education funding, Girls' education, Right to education

The global lender said it had agreed with authorities to find ways for girls forced to leave school to still access education.

The World Bank will work with Tanzania to redesign a $300 million education project, a senior official said yesterday – days after the lender said it cancelled plans for the project due to the country’s controversial policies on pregnant schoolgirls.

The World Bank told Reuters last week that it had not presented the education programme to its board for financing approval last month, in part due to Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s stance on pregnant girls in schools.

Tanzania has banned pregnant girls from attending state primary and secondary schools since 1961. Magufuli affirmed his commitment to this policy last year, saying schoolgirls who become pregnant must be expelled and not allowed to return.

However, World Bank Vice President for Africa Hafez Ghanem told reporters yesterday the lender had agreed with authorities to find ways for pregnant girls who are forced to leave school to still access education.

Children At Zanaki Primary School In Dar Es Salaam Tanzania 2

The Tanzania education project includes building new classrooms

Ghanem said – following a meeting between the World Bank, Magufuli and other officials in Tanzania – the local government had committed to finding ways for the girls to return to school.

“That is what has changed,” he said, when asked why the World Bank had reversed its decision to withdraw the project from board consideration.

However, he said the project would still be subject to board approval before the funds could be disbursed.

Leonard Akwilapo, Tanzania’s Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, told Reuters yesterday he could not comment on the World Bank’s latest comments until he received an official statement.

However, he said Tanzania’s policy was to ensure all school dropouts, including pregnant schoolgirls, continued their education through different options such as the adult education system.

On Friday, the Tanzanian government said the World Bank had agreed to provide the $300 million loan to implement the project. The project includes the construction of class rooms, hostels, laboratories, staff houses and teaching facilities.

Tanzanian female teenagers are on average three times more likely than their peers globally to get pregnant, according to government data, a statistic researchers attribute largely to low access to contraception. 

The World Bank’s decision to re-engage the government on the education project comes amid increasing criticism from foreign donors over the Magufuli government’s restrictions on the media and political parties and threats against LGBTI people.

Denmark was the first foreign donor to freeze funding to Tanzania over concerns about policies that threaten gay people and women.

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