Of the 426,314 candidates who sat for the national certificate of secondary education, 52% scored grade average of A, B and C. The remaining 48% had division four or failed outright. As soon as the results were announced by the examination council, all hell broke loose. TV, radio, newspapers and the blogosphere all went ballistic. Who is responsible for the mess?
Kigoma, Shinyanga and Mara parents are you listening? We hear you prefer your children not to pass exams to secondary because parents will have to contribute cash and labour to build classrooms, dormitories and furnishings. While many parents in my district in Kilimanjaro are determined by any means necessary to send all their offspring to secondary school, some Wakabila want theirs to stay at home? In this same land of the Serengeti and Zanzibar we have parents who would quickly marry off their daughters just to get rid of the temporary burden of paying for their secondary education.
NECTA skipped giving us the honey in the latest results but hot chilli. Typical isn't it? Whether it is Form II, IV or VI results, the national examination council of Tanzania always highlights the negative achievements like parents who are quick to condemn their children when they misbehave but never remember to praise the many good deeds children perform daily.
Why emphasise the 3,000 candidates whose results were annulled for alleged cheating and writing gibberish on exam papers? How significant is that? There are about 4,000 secondary schools and almost 450,000 candidates for that exam. About 0.7% cheated or wrote nonsense on their answer sheets. One cheat or nutcase per school is it such a big deal? Hey, every family has its black sheep. Every school must have its share of nuts.
Get real NECTA. What is your real job? Is it only organising, setting of and marking of school exams? Where is the analysis of trends in our beloved land of the Serengeti? We want to know what provinces are lagging behind, which schools have improved their performance significantly even if they are still number 200. How many candidates scored As? The good stuff.
Listing top performing schools does not tell us much because we already know why they perform well. What lessons for other schools? Which are the bottom schools, provinces, districts in the country? What about top and bottom performance by subject nationwide?
Parents and leaders at various levels would be truly interested to hear how candidates did in mathematics, English, physics and not just Kiswahili and cheaters. I mean, if they fail physics and mathematics, how will Tanzania get new batches of striking medical interns and go-slow science teachers in future?
Some people praise named schools for being among the best schools in Tanzania. Once a school makes it to the top 10 league, it will strike gold in Geita and no thief can steal from its money safe. Perhaps school owners are willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the top 10.
Most private schools require prospective students to pay between 10,000/- to 20,000/- application fee. Some require students to sit for entrance exams without NACTE approval. Private schooling is big business these days, so big that some school owners can afford lavish lifestyles that ought to be criminalised in a least-developed country like Tanzania. Application fees are a cash cow for milking parents desperate to give good education to their offspring.
A top school can receive up to 1,000 applicants for 90 places in Form one. Just think how much such schools rake in every year in application fees. Schools get to choose the best students from a cream of thousands of applicants. These so-called top ten to 20 schools which are mostly private make it to the top because they enrol some of the best secondary students of Tanzania.
If such schools do not perform excellently, they should explain in detail why. They have the best teachers money can buy, school facilities and an environment that forces pupils to study hard and compete against others for academic excellence, and a steady stream of applicants to choose from.
Private schools charge an arm and a leg as fees. They can afford to import teachers with excellent command of the Queen's English from Zimbabwe, Uganda or Kenya. So is it any wonder that half or more of students in one grade can score straight As and Bs as if exams were a piece of cake being devoured by hungry rodents? Cha!
If the government is serious about nurturing excellence in public schools, it should create secondary schools that enrol the cream of the land from primary level. The government can select one secondary school from central, eastern, coastal, northern, southern and lake zones. For each we could select the best 100 standard seven students in the zone to study in the designated school.
Tanzania can use such schools as breeding grounds to nurture future scientists like doctors and engineers. We equip those schools with all the basic stuff and books. After four years, we will have students selected and trained in the same learning environment as those in some of the best private schools in the country.
It is easy now to look down on the so-called ward secondary schools and when stacked with the other secondary schools, we can point accusing fingers at each and every one in government remotely connected to education until the cows come home. It will not solve the performance discrepancies. However, we need to examine critically the conduct and performance of teachers. Without committed and decicated teachers, education is bound to fail.
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