The influence of school matrons on girls’ educational experience and social participation in Tanzania
A commitment to gender equity is reflected in Tanzania’s educational development policies many of which are geared towards preparing all citizens to participate fully in the civic and economic life of the nation. Despite these government aspirations, the social, economic and educational status of women remains low. In this study, I seek answers for these ongoing inequalities by investigating girls’ experiences of education, focusing specifically on the influence of school matrons on educational outcomes and social participation for girls. This qualitative case study was informed by a combination of theoretical frameworks associated with African transformative feminism and social justice philosophies. Interview and focus group data were collected from multiple sites in rural and urban areas in the Manyara and Dodoma regions of Tanzania. In the course of the study, the perspectives of key players in the education contexts of these areas were sought. These included secondary school girls and their school matrons as well as School Principals and members of women’s local community groups and national organisations. In addition, data were drawn from key educational policy documents and reports relating to the education of girls. The findings identify school matrons as having a major influence in the education of Tanzanian girls. In particular, these women are responsible for creating safe educational environments for girls and many do this by assuming a nurturing role, known in Kiswahili as ‘Malezi.’ However, the significant structural challenges facing girls and young women combined with a severe and widespread shortage of educational resources and facilities places constraints on the ability of matrons to provide the sort of ongoing care that girls need. The matrons’ role is further complicated by socio-cultural and traditional expectations placed on girls and women in Tanzanian society. In light of these findings, I critique neoliberal approaches to Tanzanian education, arguing that understanding the impact of the psychosocial support systems on the engagement of learners within the nation’s educational institutions cannot be under-estimated, I conclude that it is time to develop a new way of thinking about gender equity and educational quality that departs from current human rights and human capital approaches.