University education is at the top of the root education (pre-K, K-7 and secondary education) in Tanzania. Whenever there is a missing link (a gap) at the bottom, the gap gets magnified as you move up the education ladder. This is analogous to the bioaccumulation concept in environmental science. The most toxic fish happens to be those at the top of the food chain. Following this logic, the degreed graduate who never had the proper training at the lower level ends up being the most unskilled. This is because majority of students in Tanzania lack skills to be autonomous learners and thinkers at the lower levels of education. Once they reach the University level it becomes really difficult for them to gain those skills. In other words it is too late for them.
The gaps in science, math and reading literacy (Uwezo East Africa Report 2012) at the root- schools can’t be fixed within the 3-4 years. Most people graduate from colleges in Tanzania with worthless degrees (No offence). They end up not gaining essential and/or transferable skills during their university careers and consequently missing the boat. There is also the gap between degree programs at the Universities and necessary market skills needed at the work place. This gap actually leads to people getting hired and working in capacities where they have no job related skills resulting to poor productivity in the entire work force.
The current trend of changing just the degree program names at the university level to match the degrees needed by the market will not fix this problem. Teaching in these degree programs need to focus more into skills building, “creating an environment in which learner become increasing adept at learning from each other and at helping each other learn in problem solving groups” (Mezirow, 1997) rather than rote memorization of theories, facts and principles. Degree programs need to develop skill sets that are needed to be successful in their gratuates working environment. These key competencies for work place includes “ acquiring and using information, identifying and organizing resources, working with others, interpreting information, and understanding complex interrelationships”(Gonzi et al, 1995). The most important factor for me is teaching learners to become autonomous, this is not the norm in most if not all colleges in Tanzania.
To sum this all up, real fixes need to start from the bottom of the education chain. That is from pre-schools, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools–all the way up to universities and graduate schools. We always seem to look at a college degree holder and dismantle him/her for lack of skills at the work place. Questions such as “where did he/her go to college?” become the norm in our conversation. We often forget this is the same person that came from schools that did not prepare her/him well in becoming an autonomous learner in science, math and writing. If we have to fix this image, the fixing process need to happen throughout the entire education system. Just putting a Band-Aid in convenient places will add up to the problem and will not in any way help to solve it.