Education is strongly emphasized by the Tanzanian government, and the educational institutions are held in high regard by the population at large. Everywhere we traveled in Tanzania adults and children alike emphasized the importance of education for the long term health of the country. It was as if getting educated was something of a patriotic duty. It comes as no surprise then that the Tanzanian government have devoted upwards of ten percent, and often twenty percent, of its total budget towards education. That far exceeds levels in the United States. But as in the US, students have the choice to go to either public or private schools. Private schools tend to be better funded and have more resources, but it varies depending on the neighborhood. Many private schools are also religiously affiliated, while public schools are strictly secular. Students wear color-coded uniforms that vary depending on the school. Thus, when you see students walking down the street you can tell what school they go to depending on the color they are wearing.
A few things about the Tanzanian education system were foreign to me when I first arrived. For one, children are required to attend school only through primary education, while secondary school is optional and dependent on one’s score on a national exam. Thus, national exams are extremely important and heavily emphasized at school. We saw this at many of the schools we visited, where seventh graders were prepping for their exams so they could be ready to go onto secondary school (exams are also given periodically through primary and secondary school). The importance of these exams is comparable to the importance of standardized tests given at the end of high school in the US. Another interesting thing about education in Tanzania is that while Swahili and English are both widely spoken, English takes on a level of preeminence in the education because it is the sole language secondary schools are allowed to instruct in (primary schools are taught in both Swahili and English). Some schools either Swahili or English primarily in the classroom, while other schools rely on a mix of both to educate students. This, in addition to the many different tribal languages spoken at home, means that many children grow up trilingual in Tanzania.
I heard many different views from teachers throughout my stay about the state of education in the country. The most common refrain was that teachers wanted, and needed, more resources in order to do their jobs effectively. This was especially true in rural areas where even supplies like paper and pens were limited. Further, classroom sizes were often too large for even the best teachers to manage. In some areas teachers can be responsible for over 100 students in a given classroom, a job that is almost impossible. These factors represented the most obvious and perhaps biggest obstacle to the implementation of an LTP curriculum in the country. Oftentimes when I talked with teachers about doing LTP in their classrooms, they stressed how difficult it would be to get the materials needed to do the projects. That’s why we went to great pains throughout our time here to get teachers to think of other methods of using LTP that did not involve using cameras and printers. Ideas such as cutting pictures out of newspapers and magazines and using drawing seemed to resonate with teachers and likely won us many new teachers of the methodology.
My own impression was that while Tanzania has a plethora of skilled teachers, they need even more to keep up with the country’s unique demographic demands. About 50 million people live in Tanzania today, but that number is set to double by 2035 to 100 million. Couple that with the fact that the population is slowly becoming more urbanized and it is not difficult to see how the state’s education system will be under particular stress for years to come. These demands will require Tanzania to become even more invested in its future from both a financial and professional standpoint. Tanzania will need as many people as possible entering the workforce and becoming teachers to keep up with that demand. Anything people not living in the country can do to encourage and perhaps help fund that will go a long way in making the country a regional leader for years to come.
Tanzania’s first President, Mwalimu (Teacher) Julius Nyerere, promoted an educational philosophy that serves as a robust model for the country going forward. Nyerere’s goal as the country’s patriarch was to chart a new direction for the country that united people under the national flag. This mission is evident in his writing and speeches about education. To accomplish this, he relied in part on Marxist and Maoist philosophies of education. For instance, Nyerere was a critic of traditional Western education. He viewed it as elitist, divorced from society and oftentimes unproductive in producing functional citizens. Charting a new vision for his country, Nyerere encouraged a myriad of initiatives. Namely, he urged students to be more involved in classroom planning and decision making. He also stated that the goal of school should be to make students self-confident and cooperative, and he wanted productive work to be a part of the learning process. Nyerere also encouraged several things that have not come to fruition in Tanzania: less reliance on examinations and an education oriented towards rural life. The education system in the country has yet to rely less on exams, and if anything Tanzania is becoming a more urban-oriented society.
All in all, I feel that Tanzania has made many strides in recent years towards improving its education system. Obvious impediments still remain, and challenges loom in the future, but overall the potential for prosperity is evident. It is my hope, and the hope of everyone on this trip, that LTP can be one of the tools that helps to improve education in the country. The strides that we have made during our time here will hopefully be built upon by future students and future groups.