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Education in Tanzania: Losing the Future


Whenever I speak to or meet my friend Rakesh Rajani the discussion necessarily leads to the state of education in Tanzania (I hope this post will get him out of the woods -:)).

There are strong arguments that our “education system” needs a major revamp – starting with changing the content of curricular, a rethink of the philosophy behind the current incentive systems (for teachers and for the learners), reconstitution of the education bureaucracy, emphasis on the accountability over output, refocus on the value for money for education funding, and many other matters.

At the end of the day, education matters only in what it achieves (in consideration of the time and cost associated with acquiring that “education”). In Bongo, if you finish Form Six (High School), you will have spent 13 years in school. But then, you will not have acquired any “life skill”. These 13 years are only “preparatory” – for another level of education. I think this would have been fine if opportunities for higher level of education were plentiful. So, you get a lot of young people who have spent 11 or 13 years in school but the condition of their lot has not improved or opportunities for a better livelihood have not been greatly enhanced as a result of that education.

I think that back in the days, when we were building a different kind of a society, it was probably alright to have “some education for many” as opposed to “more education for some” – because we had to make a tough decision on the basis of lack of resources. The philosophy was probably that reading and writing was enough of an empowerment to the masses.

Of course, there were vocational training initiatives, and we had these other colleges called Folk Development Colleges, to impart vocational skills but I think the volume of these institutes, and timidity in boldness, frustrated their impact.

I believe there is tremendous thirst among Tanzanians to have their kids get a better education. But I think the way we measure success in learning has to be reassessed, particularly in this new brave world. The focus on an all-important “final” exam I think creates a dangerous obsession with passing by all means –encouraging cheating and exam buying.

I also think that there is a creeping dangerous culture of “credentials” that ought to be substituted with the predominance of the culture of learning. Everyone wants to be seen as “learned” (with drive-by PhDs) without worrying whether or not they have gone through the rigours of learning. Once our kids learn from us of this obsession, the future of the nation is in peril.

Then, there is a whole different question of funding for education. Back in Nyerere times, we made a choice about the focus of our education. Now, where a major part of our education budget is funded by the “development partners”, foreign nationals get to make a decision about the content of our curricular and the whole posture of our education system. You all remember the fiasco of few years ago on the curriculum.

Let me not make this post too long…but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this matter. I think the future of “Taifa Letu” depends on what and how our kids learn. There is nothing more important.

January Makamba.

December, 2008


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