Poverty in Tanzania: Traced as consequences of the education sector in the country

BABA wa Taifa loosely translated as the Founding Father of the Nation, the late President Julius Nyerere, during his tenure in office, identified three key enemies of Tanzanians as poverty, ignorance (read lack of education) and diseases, and dedicated much of his efforts to subdue them.

Taking a close look at these enemies or calamities, evidently forms a vicious cycle if not addressed strategically and in harmony. For instance, a child from a poor family cannot cope with academic activities, and equally a sick child will always miss lessons due to ill health. Kudos, he had a point to start from in developing the country.

At the time the President Nyerere’s administration introduced strategies to wage war against these three enemies, where the strategies included Universal education (Elimu kwa wote), which specifically addressed ignorance; Kilimo cha kufa na kupona strategy, which focused on increasing agricultural production and ensuring availability of food; Health for all (Afya kwa wote), which addressed diseases’ prevention and availability of curative services drawn close to people’s residences.

The focus of Universal education was to increase literacy rate among Tanzanians with emphasis on basic primary education. In the course, Universal primary education and Adult education were implemented through approaches, which ensured convenience for everyone to access class lessons at all times.

There were evening lessons conducted at any place selected by participants and it was not uncommon to find people taking lessons under tree shades or grass thatched rooms. All these efforts were geared towards ensuring that the participants could acquire knowledge of reading, counting and writing.

This was the time when School fees were abolished and school uniforms were not mandatory. I can remember, tree logs, stones and mud-made bricks were shaped to be used as chairs and or desks for Primary School children and adult education learners. In few years later, Tanzania was among the countries in the world with highest literacy rates, Kudos once again to the Mwalimu Nyerere.

To address shortage of teaching staff, primary school graduates were enrolled for a short time in teaching course and afterwards assumed the roles of teaching in primary schools, preparatory schools and adult education.

These teachers did a great job and adequately filled up the gap of professional teachers more especially in schools owned by the then Tanzania Parents Association (TAPA).

These strategies not only increased literacy rates among Tanzanians, but also agricultural production increased because peasants of the time were capable of reading and understanding best crop farming practices, and the government managed to establish agricultural produce processing industries and other factories.

Based on the reflection narrated in this article, it is evident that quality of education depends on the set education goal and the style of implementing strategies to achieve them.

The Nyerere’s administration managed to set a realizable goal and overcame the challenges of the time to achieve the goals. What followed after him was the lack of team spirit and the leaderships, which prevailed thereafter. It is now very evident that people see it strange when they find schoolchildren taking their lessons under a tree shade.

And instead of thinking for a solution or providing some level of support to construct proper classrooms, people take pictures and share in social media to become a topic to ridicule the government and the national leadership as if the children learning under the shades are sheered by the authority.

After retirement of the late President Nyerere and due to the prevailing precarious economic situation, coupled with extensive corruption, the national revenues failed to cover the budget to continue delivery of the free universal education. School fees were introduced and followed immediately with liberalisation and commercialisation of education in Tanzania.

This approach was key in increasing access to education and opened up choices to parents to decide, which school was suitable for their children, but also improved the quality of school infrastructure and created competitive learning environment.

On the other hand, poor families or parents less informed on the benefits of education, made the school fees become a barrier to their children to get education. That gap created some children from families with a good income to benefit and continue to benefit from privately owned schools, and in the course enjoy amicable learning environment.

On the other side of the coin, there were some children from families, which cannot afford to attend the private schools and suffered a lot by being in the government schools, which continued to deteriorate and learning environment became unbearable.

The collapse of the government schools happened in parallel with failure of the education regulatory agencies, where teaching standards were violated and education was turned into a saleable commodity. The private schools quickly changed their focus from that of imparting high quality knowledge and skills to children to increased examination pass rates.

The school National Examination pass rate became an important bait to lure parents to bring and enrol their children to the private schools, which attain high pass rates. The government became victim of the circumstances and moved on to establish special talents secondary schools, but these institutions were opened to all children including those who were to attend the privately owned schools.

It is obvious that children from private schools stood a better chance of attending the special talents secondary schools, because selection was/is based on pass rates. This arrangement left out most of public government schools unattended and children continued to get lower rates in their national examinations.

The competitive environment in passing National Examination pushed most schools to focus on preparing children to pass final examination, where slow learners were expelled and excluded from the schools. Because of the shame, which is ‘earned by a school’ which cannot make all the children pass final national examination, teachers and parents embarked on colluding to cheat on the examination through helping their children to write the examinations.

Some children, who could not manage the examination cheating scam, decide to falsify certificates and the forged certificates, because of corruption could easily be used to enrol for a professional course at any level, and or even to obtain employment.

The impact of this type of education system produced Schools and Colleges’ graduates without innovative thinking, knowledge and skills of self-reliance to benefit from the abundance of natural resources available in Tanzania.

However, it is not too late to revive the system in my next article with some possible solutions.

President John Magufuli takes over the ...

Author: By Dr Boniface Idindili

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