Evidence-Based Management of Education in Tanzania: A Cautionary Tale.

Education management and assessment is a challenging process. Most often, educational evaluators fail to evaluate education systems because of not having a complete understanding of the curriculum driving the education process. The not so sophisticated educational assessors view educational assessment as simple as a pass or fail exercise.  The assessment is often based on simplistic tests that only assess the recall of facts and memorized information from the taught curriculum. Usually, the tests used are unable to measure in-depth understanding of concepts as well as critical thinking abilities gained by the student because it is hard to measure these sophisticated elements of learning. The most common tests are standardized which are classified as norm referenced tests and criterion referenced tests.  The evaluation of an education system’s worth is more complex than merely looking for deficiencies in the system. It requires sophisticated assessments that highlight the entire range of issues associate with the education system from the curriculum design itself, its implementation, and evaluation. This process needs to be informative rather than punitive so that educators can learn from empirical evidence in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
 Joel Spring (2011) posits that education has many objectives including “nationalism and patriotism; active democratic citizenship; progressive education; social justice; environmental education; human rights; arts education; cultural studies; consumer and critical media studies; and the social reconstruction of society. Regardless of the many objectives of education, the central focus of education accountability is derived from the summative assessment part. There is little effort to inform the teaching and learning process which is central to improving the quality of education. The data driven accountability in education like in many other social services in Tanzania is based on summative assessment alone and is also driven by the industrial model of management. Summative assessments are purely statistical (quantitative) and therefore add little to no value in education improvement. They are used mainly for placing blame on schools by creating systematic ranking. For example, I have seen a new website called shule.info that ranks schools from best to worst performers. The ranking of school based upon top performers to the lowest performers has no place in education. Education is not a competitive process; it is a collaborative process. And this is so true especially when quality improvement is the main goal. I think it is high time we stop and ask ourselves “What is the purpose of these rankings? Does the ranking offer any meaningful insights on how to improve the schools? If the purpose of the ranking is to shame those schools, then we do not need them. Is there an ulterior motive in all this?
Evaluation in education comes in either formative or summative. Formative evaluation is on-going and provides the educator with information necessary to improve teaching and learning. This is the kind of assessment that is the most preferred in education because it provides evidence needed to improve the system. Summative assessment, on the other hand, happens at the end of the process. Its purpose is mainly to measure if the objectives of the curriculum have been successfully met.  It mainly is used to measure the curriculum objectives like the students’ scores on a standardized test. This type of assessment does not offer solutions that would improve the quality of education. Therefore, these assessments should not be the sole systems of evaluation in an education system. The students’ score alone does not paint the whole picture of a faulty education system.
It is my belief that some people are pushing this narrowed view of education assessment for alternative goals besides the improvement of quality in education. In this vein, I see the beginnings of a business model of educational management in Tanzania. Mind you, business has only one objective, to make a profit for its shareholders. Public education is much more than making a profit. It is the right of every Tanzanian girl and boy to receive an equal opportunity to be educated.
While it is important to assess students, the assessment should meet the objective set forth of the goal that needs to be accomplished. When the assessment is based on a single objective of an education system, it renders a flawed assessment. There is a need to broaden the assessment system so that it can encompass all of the objectives set forth in the curriculum of an education system. I wonder why some respected individuals in the civil society field see this model of assessment as the best for our education system? This type of assessment is meaningless because it does not tell us anything more than the simple acquisition of subject based facts and knowledge. Paulo Freire advocated for a teaching and learning model that “empowers students to be good citizens, patriots, understanding of the democratic fabrics of the country, critical thinkers, and analyzers of the situations around them” and not students who will do as they are told.  
I feel that the vocal individuals (from some asasi za kijamii) have little understanding of education, its purposes, and its assessment systems. Due to a lack of sophisticated understanding of education, they are pushing for an educational assessment system that has no value to education whatsoever. Like A. V. Kelly (2013)said, “when the toothpaste gets out of the tube, it is impossible to put it back”. I think it is high time for people with solid educational backgrounds (not politics or asasi za kijamii kind) to take a lead in devising and directing assessment and measurement in the Tanzanian education system.
In conclusion, I do not deny that there is a place for summative assessment in education. However, when it becomes the end all, and be all, then something is wrong. I hope people will see to it that there is more to education than test scores and start to strengthen the educational quality delivery in Tanzania sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the uninformed will end up leading the informed in this field. The consequences of that will be many children left behind.

2 thoughts on “Evidence-Based Management of Education in Tanzania: A Cautionary Tale.

    • Hey Vicks, Would love to meet up and talk over dinner or something. My schedule is somewhat tight next year. I should be able to resume traveling in 2015. I hope to visit UK and perhaps it will be the best time for us to touch base. Thanks for the comments and I hope your having fun in Ethiopia. cheers!


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