Each year and each time the National Examination results (Standard Seven, Form Four, and Form Six) are announced, the discussion regarding the failures of the education system in Tanzania pops up. The central question in these discussions is whether or not the education system is meeting its goals of educating the Tanzanian youth? TWAWEZA’s data (2011-2012) from a cross-sectional studies in over 38 districts of the Tanzanian education system highlights some of the issues and the difficulties facing the system. Access the report here. Findings from this cross-sectional study paints a gleam picture. At the primary, secondary, and high school levels, majority of our children are not learning and not acquiring practical and problem-solving skills needed to be successful in life and for post primary education. The skills gap is much wider between rural and urban primary, secondary, and high schools. This skill gap has created a rural-urban divide on how children access quality education in Tanzania.
Major Issues Facing 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 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 learning and development. Professional development activities that will enhance proficiency in their teaching, teaching 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.
Change Requires Clear Vision
To counteract these issues, the government of Tanzania 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.
What knowledge is of most worth to the youth in Tanzania?
What research based-teaching strategies are best for achieving this knowledge?
What educational management model would be best for achieving the knowledge we seek to impart to our children?
Who will pay for the cost of providing this knowledge?
These questions needs to be asked and thoroughly explored. Without a clear plan, it will be impossible to measure if the education system is actually addressing the needs for the short and long terms. In assessing the education program we need to ask ourselves:
What our standard seven graduates need to know and be able to do?
What our form four graduates need to know and be able to do?
What our Form Six graduates need to know and be able to do?
Further Issues to Explore: Why are Tanzanian Youngsters not Learning?
There is not a single answer to this question. Several factors contribute this issue in one way or the other.
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 not 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.
Research to what interests our kids to learn is needed
I plea for Colleges “UDSM , SUA, and UDOM” to do research aimed at finding out what exactly interests our young people today. Our this is known, these colleges could be at the forefront in the development of curricula that reflects these interests. 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. Matching students interests, intelligences, learning style preferences with instruction has been shown to improve students’ interests and academic performance.
Curricular Should be Regional Rather Than National
Tanzania is a huge country. Curricula diversification is very important. What kids learn in Mtwara should reflect the challenges and opportunities available to them. Kids should learn through solving real life problems facing their community. What kids learn in Tabora, should reflect issues that are directly linked to their own society. We need to move past the one-size-fits-all mentality in education policy formulation, delivery, and especially the curricula itself.
The Age Factor
For primary education the age factor needs to be seriously discussed. In my views, 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 our youth enough time to grow physically, mentally, and academically for them to participate fully in their nation building work and in realizing their potentials.
Secondary School for All Kids
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 in the end. Indeed, a whole generation of talented Tanzanians are left behind with the current system. For example, I was one of those luck persons who passed the Standard Seven examination alone in my school. I do not believe that I was the smartest. I have no idea where the standard seven friends I left behind are doing 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. There are no data at the moment, however, I believe those who attends secondary schools will have an upper hand on this. Once it is known for fact that secondary school graduates earn more on average that primary school graduates, then, the government can be compelled to allow secondary education for all kids. If indeed, secondary school graduates make substantially more income over the course of their lives, then I am for expanding those opportunities to all our young men and girls.