At The School Fund, we work every day to provide scholarships to promising students in developing countries, and we see the dramatic change education makes in each student’s life. But sometimes, the problem feels overwhelming. UNICEF reports that 65 million adolescents are out of school. These students face many challenges including the cost of school and supplies, the distance to school and pressure to earn a living.
But that doesn’t mean change is impossible. The former president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, recently reflected on progress in Tanzania between 2000 and 2009. During that time primary school enrollment rates doubled and the number of high school students grew from 250,000 to 1.5 million.
The impressive growth came at a real cost — both politically and economically. During this time 20 percent of Tanzania’s annual budget was spent on education despite great pressure to invest in reliable roads, support the military and provide clean drinking water. Making the choice to invest in education took courage and confidence that a better educated population will pay dividends in future generations. In his article, Kikwete noted, “Tanzania’s experience proves that transforming a country’s education system is possible, even if that country faces severe fiscal constraints. It is not quick or easy, and it often requires difficult trade-offs.”
While Kikwete’s account is inspiring, it only tells part of the story. Enrollment in primary school has nearly reached 100 percent, but less than 65 percent of children complete primary and only 30 percent enroll in high school. Equally troubling is that just half of students who finish primary pass the primary school exit exam. (For more, check out this UNICEF overview of Tanzania’s education sector.)
For poor students, indirect costs of schooling remain prohibitively expensive. That’s why we put so much energy into fundraising for scholarships that allow students to attend the best schools in their communities. In 2016, TSF will provide 155 scholarships for students in Tanzania. Support for these scholarships arrives through many small donations — in increments as small as five dollars a month. Each small donation is precious to the students who leverage scholarships to build a better life.
In Tanzania, many students are ready to further their education. Unfortunately the funding isn’t all there yet. Until it is, The School Fund will continue to support bright, financially needy students because each year of education matters immeasurably.