Analysts are blaming numerous arbitrary and inconsistent political statements on education for frustrating the efforts to improve the sector.
They say the pronouncements have not helped to bring about major changes into the country’s education policy.
For a long time since the education policy was formulated for the first time in 1995, Tanzania’s education system has been on the receiving end of frequent changes that are blamed to have caused serious damage to the entire education management ecosystem.
Analysts who have been working on the country’s education sector for decades are of the views that these ‘arbitrary’ changes have been the results of the changes occurring in the country’s administrative systems as well as those taking place in different social and economic fields.
Their fly-by-night nature in the implementation, contradiction with the exact situation of the country’s education on the ground and their ignoring of the long-term implications to the curricula development are but some of the challenges that stakeholders associate with these inconsistent political pronouncements.
One of the staunchest critics of this tradition – of issuing arbitrary political directives – is Vunjo MP (NCCR-Mageuzi) James Mbatia who has been at the forefront in highlighting the dangers associated with it and the way forward.
He once told The Citizen how irritated he was to see the country’s education system placed on a single person – a minister – who can make whatever the decision he sees fit.
“A minister in charge is the sole authority to decide what is better for our education and what is not,” said Mr Mbatia who was recently re-elected as his party’s national chairperson. “We have turned our primary, secondary and even university students into guinea pigs to experiment on,” he said.
Nonetheless, these criticisms have not been successful from restraining politicians who head the education docket from making the arbitrary statements.
The vivid example is the announcement by the Deputy Minister of State in the President’s Office, Regional Administration and Local Government Mwita Waitara. Mr Waitara forbade private schools from sending home or discontinuing students whose parents or guardians have failed to pay school fees. In a January 2019 op-ed in The Citizen, a professor of economics in the United States Richard Mshomba slammed the announcement as “both vague and unfair to private schools.”
For many people, however, the announcement was reminiscent of many other dangerous announcements that have been made in the past whose spectre analysts say continues to eat away the country’s education system.
Announcements that shocked many
In 2015, the National Examination Council of Tanzania (Necta) announced that students who will fail in their Standard IV and Form II exams will not be allowed to repeat classes, instead, the government would arrange evening studies for them.
The aim, the government said then, was to closely monitor teaching standards. That students who badly performed in exams require close monitoring by their teachers, not just make them repeat classes.
Tanzania Association of Owners and Managers of Non-Government Schools (Tamongsco) secretary-general, Mr Benjamin Nkonya reacted to the announcement then by calling it “a final nail in the coffin of education in Tanzania.”
“When the government stops the students from repeating classes, the quality of public education will experience a precipitous drop to a position we had 40 years ago and private schools will increase in popularity,” he said.
Another announcement was the one made by a former education minister Joseph Mungai that led to the abandoning of agriculture lessons in schools. The decision shocked many partly because for a country that claims agriculture is the backbone of its economy one would expect its government to encourage the lessons rather than dissuading their teaching.
Mungai also stopped sports in schools, claiming that they were denying teachers and students teaching and learning time. He even ordered a mixture of Chemistry and Physics to be taught as a single subject, claiming that the secondary school syllabus had so many subjects that they contributed to difficulties in the teaching and learning of science subjects, as well as language and mathematics.
Perhaps no announcement hurt the education stakeholder and author Mr Richard Mabala as much as that of construction of community schools, famously known as ‘Shule za Kata’ (Ward Schools). The construction of the schools has been described as one of the wonders to have ever happened to the country’s education sector as they were haphazardly constructed without proper infrastructure, education equipment and teachers.
“So many schools were established without teachers [to teach there] and other necessary school equipment,” said the author of the famous short story book Mabala the Farmer in an email interview with The Citizen.
“Even those renowned schools lost their status for teachers who taught there were transferred to the newly-established schools.”
Politicians thinking they know it all
“My problem with politicians is that they think they are superior,” explains Mr Mabala, expressing his anger against the announcements. “It’s just a matter of pronouncing it and then soon implementation follows. They don’t plan. They don’t take into account the current budget. They just decide.
Mr Mabala points out that politicians tend to think that once given the mandate to head a particular ministry then they soon become experts in the respective area and see no need to learn. They sometimes even confuse between their interests as politicians with the national interests, he says.
“You have heard that education ministers [upon having been appointed to the docket] have been undertaking numerous visits to various schools to familiarise themselves with the real condition of the schools. But they end up to be mere vacations rather than actually study tours. They are visits to get themselves praised and issue instant directives.”
According to Mr Mabala, who is professionally a teacher, the best solution to the problem -- making arbitrary pronouncement -- is to stop them from taking any measure in their first year in office so that they can have a time to learn first.
“We also have to get rid of the notion that politicians know everything. We have to build a culture of forcing politicians to recognise the expertise of professionals. They don’t have to agree [with the experts’ opinions] but they have to listen to them before acting,” suggests Mr Mabala.
Not all analysts shares the view that the arbitrary pronouncements on education were bad. Some think that there are positive implications.
Dr Eugenia Kafanabo, the dean of the School of Education at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) says the implementation of the country’s education policy and laws depend on many things, including who fund the education and transformations in other walks of life.
“It is due to this fact that ministers sometimes need to take some immediate actions. There are times things are done in the wrong way and so require immediate corrections. I cannot say for sure that amount to political interference [in the education sector],” she says.