Whither education system in Tanzania or anywhere else?

Tony Zakaria

There is a video circulating on WhatsApp of a young man who decided to take educators to court. Reason? He says the school system turns millions of people into automatic machines, it uses the same classroom methods of a century ago and by treating all kids the same way, schools use testing methods that judge the ‘ability of fish to climb trees’.

When kids fail, they are left feeling stupid, while all along in class they were struggling. Kids aka young children and teens are not created the same, but have different capabilities to grasp simple or complex concepts, creativity and initiative levels so they cannot be treated in a uniform way.

The telephone of the 60s invented by Graham Bell and the Iphone of Steve Jobs are worlds apart, yet the classrooms and teachers have not changed much. Technology is what is driving life, business and world economies.

Yet somewhere schools are still teaching the history and theories of evolution of species spanning 65 million years. Kids understand less about the tremendous advancements in technology in the last 100 years but we expect them to know what happened 15 million years ago?

Radio, TV, air travel, manufacturing industries, computers, space exploration, marine vessels, war machinery, medical sciences, robotics and all kinds of constructive and destructive machines and tools happened in recent memory.

Where is the space to teach these? More to the point, schools teach a lot of academic - read theory - stuff that may or may not have use in real life. One singer/rapper laments the fact he learned the detailed structure of the cell to the mitochondria but never learned how to apply for a job or how to pay taxes.

The schools he attended did not teach him life skills. I can bet few schools focus some of their teaching on healthy living and disease prevention. What is the use of knowing the when, the how and the why of liberation movements in Africa only to suffer and die from cholera or malaria? Kinjekitile promised magic water to protect warriors from German bullets, but there is no Majimaji equivalent for teenage or adult obesity.

In our beloved Tanzania, there are still a few schools with inadequate or lack of toilet facilities. Why can’t school children learn practically by digging their own latrines in schools? By now with the massive investments that have gone into basic education in the land of the Kilimanjaro, most people would be healthier than their cousins, uncles and aunties of the 1960s and 70s.

Instead we are having to expand existing hospitals and health centres and build new ones rapidly to catch up with an ever-growing but sick population. Schools have not been centres of learning about leading healthy lifestyles.

It is left to ministry of health to conduct health awareness campaigns that are as effective in tackling sickness and poor health as political campaigns are effective in removing long-serving and entrenched presidents and legislators. Our schools can teach the evolution of human economic production from the time of slavery to capitalism and globalisation.

And students can pass with flying colours from their knowledge of local, regional, continental and world wars of annexation, colonial expansion, neo-colonial power grabs or regime changes. Will this ensure they will succeed in this world?

In Tanzania and many African countries the majority of the people depend on agriculture. Everybody the world over has to eat, even those orbiting in outer space. Food production is an important activity that can sustain individuals and families.

How many schools teach, not theory of agriculture but the practical application by growing own food crops including vegetables? How many students come out with the knowledge of how to start up a small scale green house projects for growing tomatoes, onions, carrots, spinach, etc?

Now we are on the brink of a crisis. Most young people finish school and migrate to towns. Or they desire quick money through artisan mining. It is mostly the older people who are engaged in agriculture.

Who is going to produce food for domestic consumption in the next 10-20 years as older folks become frail or fade into the sunset of their lives? Our schools are only interested in academics.

If our youth are to be engaged in agriculture, they must learn to like it in school. The schools that have sprung up in the last 10 to 15 years in Tanzania have no playgrounds for physical and recreational stimulation.

After students have memorised the triangular trade in West Africa and its effects, the kingdom of Monomotapa, Shaka Zulu and the Dutch settlers in the Cape, the East African slave trader and Tippu Tip, they must also learn how to grow lentils and cereals for sale to the India of prime minister Modi.

The history of Africa may give them knowledge, but practical agriculture skills can ensure money in the bank. Schools must evolve and keep abreast of recent developments.

The notion that curriculum developers will be ahead of local or global developments is a myth. Secondary schools should already have been teaching how to apply for, disburse and pay back loans.

Not every school leaver needs to get a university degree. Some can swim in the oceans of business on their own initiative with support from the many micro-finance packages and organisations for youth, women entrepreneurs in our countries. But they must have some basic knowledge of financial accounting and project write up.

Now many young and old citizens are using smartphones, the internet is on the palm of their hands. Banking is now done through the phone. The most basic phone that costs less than $20 on the streets of Tanzanian cities can send and receive money.

The phone is the bridge that narrowed the digital divide between the rich and the poor. Yet I see almost every school in Tanzania banning the use of mobile phones. Yet young people are so into mobile phones we may as well embrace the technology in schools, use it for teaching and for giving assignments to research the wealth of information on the web, and for preparing write ups. Students can have stimulating discussions on WhatsApp.

Some entrepreneurs are already using Whatsapp to conduct seminars of various topics and charging clients who wish to be part of such learning.

Our ministries of education are probably staffed by overprotective parents who still allow their children to use smartphones and tablets after school. My question is, how dynamic should our school systems become to cope with a rapidly changing world? The time of education for jobs may be long over. Education better be for knowledge and self-employment.

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