I recently did an article in which I challenged us Tanzanians to ponder where our education is heading or perhaps more importantly, where it should head.
I received some interesting feedback from a few readers. Am not certain how many web users bothered to click on the article since my newspaper decided to remove the option of ‘Hits’ on published articles.
I thank those who read and gave feedback. I was particularly pleased by a very thoughtful reader from one of the Nordic countries who sent me a detailed note on the experience of his country.
He sees the Tanzania struggles with education being typical of many other countries. I like to share some of the things being done in his country in this article but in my own style. Apparently some years ago his nation established a committee to make proposals on how pupils and apprentices would develop knowledge, skills and attitudes to be able to master their lives. This is the thing. Education is not for a fancy certificate that successful students hang on a display wall, somewhere in a rented room or house.
There is a very important keyword in that sentence that needs underlining. Attitudes. I don’t think attitudes apply ony to pupils and apprentices.
Teachers who have the wrong attitudes can completely ruin the teaching-learning relationship and environment. I have come across secondary school teachers who say they are there not to spoonfeed students but to teach. Their students are required to listen and write own notes. If they do not understand, let them consult books in the library.
I have heard of lecturers who tell struggling students they are in the wrong place and should find another field of study. How can this kind of attitude nurture learning?
Sadly there is no formal system to weed out such teachers, who perhaps sound more like they are the ones in the wrong profession. I believe our curriculum developers are mostly teachers or persons with education in their CVs.
Have they been really developing a system that would enable students and teachers to acquire a) knowledge, b) skills and c) attitudes to er, master their own lives after school is completed? There is life after school you know.
And it is probably a waste of resources to train lawyers and engineers with excellent credentials who end up in politics when they could be imparting and multiplying their knowledge and skills in others. I mean there is nothing wrong with joining politics but partisanship can get in the way of what is true and noble.
Imagine a lawyer-politician in the US government, if the president utters something that is factually incorrect (a lie but not under oath) , should he remain silent lest what he says be used against him in court or should he tell the truth and risk be seen as criticising the tweeter-inchief?
Anyway, I digress. Political skills are not taught in the classroom. The Nordic land which my reader Bjoern described, has a decade-old curriculum that describes five basic skills namely read, write, talk/discuss, digital skills, and calculate. Of recent they decided that these skills should be integrated in all subjects.
This is very interesting for a Tanzanian like me. In this digital age we are still stuck in chalk and blackboards and are vehemently opposed to introducing smartphones in the classroom. From the executive and tax man to traders and traffic police men, verything is done on computers and handheld devices nowadays in Tanzania.
If we freeze the travel of members of parliament, ministers, directors and managers for a year, I can bet we will be able to put a number of laptop computers in every secondary school in the country. Teaching kids to use computers is a no-brainer. As I intimated in an earlier article about the hole-in-a-wall experiment in India, kids can learn computers even without teachers.
Try giving your pre-school toddlers a wifi tablet or phone and see how many things they quickly pick up on their own. As Mwalimu Nyerere said long ago, we must (try to) run while others walk. It seems we are standing when others are racing ahead.
We may not catch up with the rest of the world if we do not start now. I believe the Tanzanian curriculum puts emphasis on three basic skills na,ely read, write and arithmetic. The question is, should we (when and how) integrate this into every subject?
It beats every logic to hear reports of kids who go through seven years of primary education without learning how to read. Don’t the history, english, geography and civics teachers teach their pupils to read in their respective subjects? Here is where the question of attitude comes in. A pupils is expected to learn the three Rs in grade one and two. A teacher in grade V may feel it is not his job to teach reading.
Or a Form IV teacher who refuses to recap/revise a topic that was covered albeit superficially, by another teacher in Form II. The talk/discuss skills at lower levels in Tanzania are practically non-existent but they are emphasised strongly at university level.
I think this is in part because in primary and secondary levels, the teacher is everything. Teaches, asks questions and discusses the topic monologue style. Suddenly in college students are expected to hold discussions in groups and make presentations.
It may also be due to our notalking- back to elders culture. We need to allow students to develop problem-solving skills and public speaking confidence through group discussion without a teacher. This may help local graduates to excel at job interviews.