By Shaaban Fundi,
The dismal performance of Tanzanian students in science and mathematics from primary to secondary schools is not surprising.
The last time I was in Tanzania I had the opportunity to visit a couple of primary and secondary schools both in urban and rural areas and what I observed in the mathematics and science classroom was very appalling. Dilapidated learning environment, lack of basic teaching resources, and didactic teaching methods were ubiquitous .On top of all this, the teachers I visited demonstrated lack of teaching skills, firm content understanding in the subject area they were teaching, and the also lacked rigorous professional development needed to perform proficiently in their jobs.
I know I should not generalize what I saw in those few schools to be a good representation of what is going on in the entire country. Data from the Ministry of education suggests this to be the case. The percent failure rates in mathematics, biology, physics and chemistry were at 77, 43, 35, 45 in the year 2003 and 78, 45, 35, 43 percents in the year 2004 respectively. Since no concrete corrective measures are in place to address the downward trends, I believe the failure rates in these subjects are worse now than they were before and will continue to worsen in the foreseeable future.
What Tanzania need to do?
I am optimistic that the situation is not beyond despair even though it is pathetic. We still have the time to change what is happening in our schools and educate our children to compete in the now increasingly flatter world. A four prongs approach can be used to address this problem.
First, building a conducive learning environment for our youngsters is vital in reversing this trend. The fact that most school children have no classrooms, desks, chairs and school supplies is a shame to all of us who wish well the next generation of Tanzanians. The government has the responsibility to collect taxes, cut spending, and to provide services to its citizens. One of those services is to provide a quality education to its people. We are purposely leaving our children behind in the East African Community and the global markets. How are they going to compete with our neighbors and the global community if we are failing them miserably in education?
Second, teaching our teachers especially those in primary and secondary schools to use pedagogically engaging and developmentally appropriate lessons. To develop Lessons geared to address the different learning modalities i.e. auditory, tactile, kinesthetic etc and needs of all children. This can be achieved by preparing teachers that have a firm understanding for their content areas, brain developmental theories, and how to develop instructional methods that help children learn at their own pace and age group.
Teachings from the chalkboard and memorization methods are not very engaging for most, if not all children. Therefore, teachers need to be taught to use differentiation teaching strategies such as the use of hands on activities, manipulative, experiential learning, grouping strategies and the use of models in explaining abstract scientific and mathematical concepts to young children.
In addition, teaching at the highest levels of the bloom’s taxonomy is essential.Furthermore, it would be helpful to start teaching science and mathematics in English from a tender age i.e. primary schools onwards. This will not only help to improve science and mathematics performance but also will increase English acquisition and proficiency at an early age. Moreover, students who are performing poorly in these subjects should be identified early and remedial instruction should be provided to help them master the content.
Third, providing science and mathematics teachers with the resources they need to teach these subjects effectively. The presence of basic teaching tools like models i.e. the globe, DNA models, Bohr’s models etcetera in the classrooms are crucial at helping kids learn science and mathematics. Moreover, incentives to attract and retain knowledgeable people to become and stay in the teaching profession will go a long way in helping to alleviate this problem.
Fourth, continued monitoring and evaluation of teachers and administrators performances in these schools is a key. We need to make sure first that these people have the resources and training they need to do their jobs successfully. And not just blaming them empty handedly. The auditing that is currently done through a checklist is not producing the result that is needed. Maybe an auditing system that rewards the schools, the teachers and the administrators that are performing beyond their calls of duty and punish those who do not, needs to be developed and effectively implemented.
I hope people in the ministry of education will see the need and start acting immediately before importing teachers from Kenya and Uganda to teach these subjects for us. I do believe that we do still have the talent pool to draw upon within Tanzania before importing teachers from abroad.
However, I do recommend the pairing of Tanzanian teacher with the peace-corps and other volunteer teachers as a means of exposing our teachers to the best practices in teaching mathematics and science.