Going it alone: Mama Lucy’s education reform in Tanzania
Tanzania is a country which lies on the eastern part of Africa just below the equator. Its population is over 30 million people. It became independent on 9th December 1961 from British colonial rule. The education provided by the colonial government in our country had a different purpose. It was not designed to prepare young people for service of their own country; instead it was motivated by desire to inculcate the values of the colonial society and to train them for the service of colonial state. During colonial rule, many schools were racially or religiously segregated, emphasized British values, and there was little emphasis on educating local children. Very few local children were in school. With the arrival of independence in 1961, many schools were built by missionaries. Still, very few children were able to join those schools.
In 1967, The Late President Julius Nyerere launched The Arusha Declaration and policy on socialism and self-reliance; the principles being:
- That all human beings are equal;
- That every individual has a right to dignity and respect;
- That every citizen is an integral part of the nation and has the right to take an equal part in government at local, region and national level.
- That every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, of movement and of religious belief. (just few to mention)
Government decided to take over all the schools, hospitals and other major services from private institutions and individuals. Private schools and hospitals were even outlawed. His aim was centralization to ensure everyone had equal access to these basic social services. Though primary education became nearly universal in our country, unfortunately, many years of poverty and inflation made it impossible for the government to maintain a high standard of education for every child. After some years, the standard of education dropped. I wanted to make it clear that The Late President Julius Nyerere had good intentions & even some good results, even though the final outcomes didn’t succeed.
In 1990s the government decided to allow the private sector to come back and give the services as before. It was too late, though, to cater to the problem quickly. Here are few reasons for the poor performance of education sector in Tanzania though the system is good:
- Overcrowding: The number of schools in Tanzania is very few compared to the number of children who are supposed to join schools. This causes a classroom to accommodate many kids compared to its capacity. One classroom in public schools accommodates 80 to 120 children with only one teacher. Even if a teacher is good, it’s impossible to produce good products.At our school, we control the number of students in each class, and build a good work environment, so that teachers can do a good job .The Tanzania’s Ministry of Education allows a class to have not more than 45 children. We adhere this rule and; in addition, in our preschool classrooms, we have assistant teachers to help manage younger students.
- Expensive but Low-Quality Private Schools: Most of the private schools charge highly. Unfortunately, other private schools are there to make money and not to offer high quality education. Many just have good buildings and offer good food but they provide a low standard of education.At our school, tuition is very low when compared with many private schools. In addition, we use income from paying students to provide free and reduced-cost education to many children at our school, including orphans and other children who could not otherwise afford a high-quality education.
- Insufficient Books & Supplies: This is a major problem to most of the schools in Tanzania. In public schools, the Government provides books to teachers and can’t give to pupils. The parents can’t afford buying the books. Children end up listening to teachers and have no books to reference. Due to the poverty problem, many parents can’t afford even to buy other learning materials. Some students miss school because they don’t have exercise books, mathematical sets and sometimes things like school uniforms, shoes or bags. In public school even the low school fees of Tshs. 20000 (~ $20 USD) per year is a problem to others.At our school, I always buy books for teachers and a few to support students who can’t get books especially orphans. Other children, the parents have to buy for them. Our school library, which is under construction, will give chance to all children to have wide range of books and other materials for their studies.
- Inadequate Technology: There is no modern technology equipment in most of the schools. The world now is like a village. Children need to know much about what’s going on in other places. Even to learn so many things from the computers/internet is very important. Very few schools have even a single computer for office work. Computers here are very expensive so only schools which charge very expensive fees can afford to buy computers for children to use.At our school, computer lessons are conducted in classes from class 3 upwards, including lessons on the internet. Our class 6 students are even called the TwitterKids of Tanzania for their use of Twitter. The technology lab is under construction too which will provide a classroom for technology learning and provide us with more security for our computers. I’m glad our school got computers and internet access through the efforts of US nonprofit, Epic Change.
- Communication Barriers: All public primary schools teach in Kiswahili but when they join secondary school, they are taught every subject in English except Kiswahili subject. This causes many children to fail understanding what teachers are teaching. The outcome is low performance.At our school, all classes are taught in English from the time students are in preschool when they are young and can learn the language quickly. Of course, we also teach our national language, Kiswahili, so all our students are bilingual and, once they are prepared for secondary school, will be able to fully participate in their classes.
- AIDS: This disease has left so many children with no place to stay, no food, no education and so many other problems.At our school, we offer free education, meals and shelter to our students who have lost their parents to AIDS. We hope to be able to offer this to even more children in our community as our partner, Epic Change, works to build a dormitory to house up to 50 students on our school campus. Our plan is to build a home for children at our school to cater problem of orphans and needy children moving from relatives’ houses day after day, which affects their good performance. Epic Change has raised USD $16,830+ so far for this purpose.
- Limited Government Investment to Expand Private Education Innovations: There is no budget from the government to support private schools. This is a big problem. We would like to tackle many things to reduce problems in this sector of education. I am certain improvements in education would be a source of solving many problems in our country which are caused by ignorance.Problems with School Transport: Many children are walking long way to/from schools. Others are walking 1 to 2 hours just to reach the school. Others who are lucky, parents are giving them bus fare to board public buses. Unfortunately, during peak hours, the buses do not allow children to board their buses, saying they pay too little bus fare. So they reach at school/home very late, and this causes low performance for many children.At our school, we have school buses which shuttle kids to and from school to give them good harmony for learning. They don’t get tired before or after their studies because of the long journey.
- Freedom in Learning: In government schools, both culturally and because other materials than the teacher aren’t widely available, the teacher is viewed and respected as the only way to get knowledge from. Children are encouraged to memorize and repeat what they are taught. Corporal punishment is common when students don’t comply. This situation, hinder creativity, critical and independent thinking among our students.In our classrooms, especially as students are beginning to access knowledge and, in some cases, master new technology even more quickly than their teachers, we are beginning to evolve toward an environment where students and teachers are learning with and from one another. Children are also starting to blog & tweet their opinions, and complete independent projects. This is a significant cultural change for our community, however, and will take time. I am totally opposing the corporal punishment for children at my school, and believe that the loving environment we cultivate at our school represents a significant difference from other local schools as well.
- Provision of Lunch at Schools: Most of the public schools and even other private schools do not provide lunch to children and teachers. This causes many children and teachers to perform poorly.At my school, we provide porridge/tea at 10am and lunch to children and staff of our school. This has been one of secret of our good performance and having happy children.
- Parental Involvement: In some schools, parents are not involved in anything concerning school development. No meetings with parents to discuss anything. This hinders the closeness and quick development of most schools.At our school, we have a very active parents committee that supports our school in many ways, including fundraising, policy changes and more. At our last parents meeting, hundreds of parents attended for several hours and actively participated in discussion about fees, meals, books and other important subjects.
When I started our school in 2003, I aimed on giving good education to my students, and I shared above what I’m doing to make this possible. I’m glad that the children of my school are performing well. On our most recent class 4 national exams (late last year) our school scored #2 out of 123 schools in our District. This gives me hope that we’ll create change in our community and positive outcomes for our students.
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