What ails the Tanzanian Education System? The GPA vs Division Debate.

Yesterday, I re-read a letter  Mr. Rakesh Rajani  wrote to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda. The letter was titled “Commission to Investigate Causes of Poor Form IV Results” and dated May 13th, 2013.   The letter sparked my interest on recent development regarding education reporting in Tanzania. A few weeks ago, Professor Ndalichako decided to remove the use of gpa in calculating students’ results when reporting exam scores. In arriving to her decision, Professor Ndalichako (the current Minister of Education) reported to have used sound scientific evidence. I quote “”Yes, we need change, but change should be informed and backed by scientific grounds.”


Source: NIPASHE.

While on the surface Professor Ndalichako’s decision may sound great. The decision lack substance and scientific grounding.

A little bit of history will help you understand my argument. Tanzanian students performed miserably in 2012. In response to the failures, the government formed a commission tasked to investigate the root causes. Mr. Rakesh was one among many people asked by the government to take part in this investigation. However, due to politics and other issues Mr. Rakesh removed himself from the committee.

Mr. Rakesh wrote a letter to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda explaining why he chose to step down from the commission. In the letter he summarized many of the ills facing the Tanzanian Education System. He raised several significant points. Among other things, Mr. Rakesh said “We do not help our students and the nation by making our students look like they are performing better by lowering our standards; we help the students by equipping them to perform in accordance with high standards.

In addition, Rakesh pointed out that the pass or fail benchmarks was set too low. And, I agree with his assertion. In my views, to measure progress particularly in education–one needs a reliable, valid, fair, and rigorous yardstick. It is my belief that the main problem lies in the fact that Tanzania has lowered its pass or fail benchmarks to the lowest lows. This was done on purpose to make things look better than they really were. For example, right now for a student to receive an A on a course, he/she only needs between 75 marks and 100, to receive a B, he/she only needs 50 to 74 marks, and for C, he or she will need to receive between 40 to 49 marks. This scale is too wide and too low. I don’t believe someone who got 75 marks should be classified in the same rank as someone who received 98 marks in the same exam.

With all due respect to Professor Ndalichako, the decision to change the yardstick from gpa to division may sound good in ones’ ears, it really does not address the underlying problem of the scale itself. The Division system may be reliable and perhaps fair, however, if it will continue to be based on these low benchmarks, it will not be rigorous. Thus, the decision is counter-productive. Perhaps to approach this problem better is to change the benchmarks back to “A” being between 90-100 marks, “B” between 80-89 marks, and “C” from 70 to 79. Hence, changing the benchmarks rather than the yardstick will bring reliability, fairness, and rigor back.

Furthermore, addressing the yardstick problem alone will not bring authentic learning back in our schools. Twaweza has done numerous learning assessment studies with our students for many years. Year after year these studies have arrived to the same conclusion– OUR STUDENTS ARE INDEED NOT COGNITIVELY LEARNING. The studies points to teacher absenteeism, lack of morally, dilapidated learning and teaching environment, language of instruction, lack of learning and teaching materials as causes to low levels of cognitive learning for our kids. I believe changing the yardstick from gpa to division will not in anyway address these fundamental teaching and learning issues. Unless the Professor acknowledges the existence of these issues, we will not move forward.

To move forward we need to acknowledge the root causes of our underperformance. Thus, I agree with  Mr. Rakesh conclusion. I quote, “Because so many aspects need to be solved, a key task will be to focus on issues that are, from an evidence based perspective, the key drivers of learning.” The gpa versus division issue, is not in any way a key driver of learning. Just to remind you, Mr. Rakesh recommended the following:

  1. “enhancing teacher motivation and accountability, including use of effective pedagogy and increased time in the classroom. Among others this will require a ‘compact’ with the teachers and the Tanzania Teachers’ Union to move away from the go slow and general demotivation/resistance that characterize the status quo;
  2. exploration of the use of incentives for teachers and others that are paid on the basis of delivery of learning outcomes (local cash on delivery, payments for performance);
  3. experiments with the use of Kiswahili as the medium of instruction, building on extensive research done in Tanzania and elsewhere; clarifying and simplifying roles and responsibilities for educational delivery, and having real recognition for those who do well and consequences for those who fail to exercise ethics and responsibilities;
  4. better allocation, follow-up, value for money and accountability of the large budget for education, in particular ensuring a larger share of resources reach the basic education facilities at the community level;
  5. establishment and implementation of deep transparency and functional citizen feedback systems (consistent with Open Government Partnership principles) that allow everyone from the parent to the President to know what is going on in each school with the click of a button.’’

While I agree with many of Rakesh’s suggested solutions listed. I, however, do not agree with recommendations number two and three. My reasons for not entirely agreeing with these particular recommendations will be discussed in my next article.


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