There have been several discussions on the failures of the education system in Tanzania and to whether or not the system is meeting its goals of educating the youth. The data from a cross-sectional study in over 38 districts of the Tanzanian education system by TWAWEZA and UWEZO has provided some of the answers to this difficult but necessary discussion. Access the report here. The findings from this study paint a gleam picture. At the primary school level, the majority of our children are not learning as well as acquiring skills they need to be successful post primary education. The gap is much higher if you compare rural and urban primary schools.
Why are Tanzanian Youngsters not Learning?
There is not a single answer to this question. Several factors contribute in one way or the other to this phenomenon. The learning activities used in most classrooms do not reflect the interests of children. We are still using teaching strategies that are outdated, non-engaging and based on memorization to teach children whose attention spans have changed over the years. Most of the digital-age children have very short attention and memory spans. Lecturing for hours without interactive activities, hands-on-activities, and experiential learning activities will merely be beneficial to them. In my opinion, we cannot continue to teach non interactive lessons, lessons that don’t address children brain development theories, motivation theories, cognitive theories, and expect our children to learn. In addition, teacher absenteeism, lack of classroom resources, and pathetic salaries contribute to the failures seen.
I call for Colleges “UDSM , SUA, and UDOM” to do research and find out what actually interests our young people today. These colleges should be at the forefront in the development of curricula that reflects the interests of our young people. A bottom up approach for developing curricula from the the school level, the district level, the regional level, and the country at large needs to be used. Since Tanzania is a huge country, curricula diversification is very important. What kids learn in Mtwara should reflect the opportunities available for them, and what kids learn in Tabora should do the same. We need to move past the one-size-fits-all mentality in education policy formulation, delivery, and especially the curricula itself.
Background of the Education System in Tanzania
Tanzania has a K-13 education system. It starts with the kindergarten level for one year, the primary level for seven years, the secondary school level for four years, and the advanced secondary school level for two years. Currently, there is a multifaceted primary school education in Tanzania composed of English Medium Schools (the very minority) from political and affluent families and those attending regular primary education (the majority). And Within the regular education system, the facility and staffing quality differences between the schools in rural areas and those in urban areas are quite staggering.
Those attending regular primary schools in rural areas normally lack books, teaching aids, and are schooled in dilapidated teaching environment. Furthermore, they have teachers who are ill-prepared to teach the courses that are assigned to them to teach. Furthermore, there are no professional development opportunity for the teachers to engage in professional development. Professional development activities that will enhance proficiency in their teaching, learning methods, in the medium of instruction, and finally mastery of content.
The teaching culture also needs to change to reflect the changing student needs. It should be reasonable for student to engage in a discussion with the teacher and other students without fearing retaliations. The fact that students are scared to ask questions in class is very troublesome. Teachers are supposed to be facilitators of children’s search for knowledge. It is the duty and responsibility of each teacher to encourage children to ask questions, to guide children in their thirsty and hunger for knowledge. How are children going to learn if they do not have the opportunity to ask questions? What type of citizens are we producing? Citizens who cannot ask questions? Citizens who cannot analyze issues? I always ask myself why we entirely depend on the people who failed to teach our kids. Failures produce failures in my book.
To counteract these issues, the government needs to be at the forefront. The government needs to develop goals on how the educations system in Tanzania should look like for the short and long term. Questions like “What knowledge is of most worth to the youth? What research based-teaching strategies are best for achieving these goals? What educational management model would be best for achieving these goals? Who will pay for it? needs to be asked and thoroughly explored. Without a plan, it will be impossible to measure if the education system is actually addressing the needs for the short and long terms. Questions like “What a standard seven graduate needs to know and be able to do? What a form four graduate need to know and be able to do and so forth needs an in-depth examination.
The Age Factor
For primary education, the age factor needs to be seriously evaluated. Standard seven graduates are indeed too young to participate meaningfully in any civil and citizenship responsibilities. For example, getting a job at the age of 13-to-14 years is almost impossible in the current work-force-system or structure in Tanzania. I certainly believe that raising the end of school age to Form Four for all will adequately help to give the youngsters of Tanzania enough time and growth physically, mentally, and academically to participate fully in their nation building work and in realizing their potentials.
How To Get There?
The money factor and the school structure needs to be discussed openly. Like I said earlier a bottom-up approach will do more good than harm. It will be a huge undertaking but it would be worth the effort. Indeed, a whole generation of talented Tanzanians is left behind with the current system. For example, I was one of those luck persons who passed standard seven alone in my school and I do not believe that I was the smartest. I have no idea where my standard seven friends are right now. It is a shame that I left a lot of them behind to fend for themselves at the age of 13-to-14 years old.
Probably knowing the life time income differential between a primary school graduate and a secondary school graduate in Tanzania will help in narrowing down the options on which way to go with our failing education system? The answer to this question will help in formulating policies that would allow for secondary school education for all youngsters in Tanzania. If indeed, secondary school graduates make substantially more income over the course of their lives, then I am for expanding those opportunities to all youngsters.