(First published in Polestar)
Agriculture is an integral part of each school day in Tanzania. Through it the children learn self-reliance.
At a signal from the headmaster the class stands up. It is Monday and about twenty e1even-year-01d boys and girls wait quietly in front of wooden benches. To one side maize cobs are piled high and I notice a bundle of white cotton. The children have grown these on the school “shamba” or plot of land.
The cotton will be sold to buy materials for the school and the maize will be eaten. There are no school meals provided by someone else. If the school. or village do not produce food, then there is none.
The children learn the skills of farming and gain experience by helping to decide how to use the money for the good of the school as a whole; for new writing books, pencils or pens, a coat of paint for a classroom, another blackboard or repairs to the roof.
Ninety per cent of these children leave school at the age of fourteen but they will face no gigantic leap into the world of work. They have been working as they learn and are familiar with the kinds of decisions they will have to make as adults.
Only the scale of those decisions will have changed. Proceeds of cash crops, which in this particular village of Lukobe are cotton, sunflowers and castor oil, may be invested in a well, or inoculation of the livestock against tsetse fly, or in improvements to a local road.
Ten days later, we are in the fertile North. Two secondary schoolboys have left their lessons to conduct us round their school farm.
The maize stands tall and green, quite unlike the parched, yellow stalks in the arid plains below. Coffee bushes are dwarfed by the peppering of giant shade trees needed, even in this lush hill district, to keep the fruits cool.
In an adjacent field is a small nursery garden where seedlings are nurtured. Many of these have died, explains one of the boys ruefully, because during the summer holidays no one watered them. Across the track, is a small herd of cattle, about half a dozen, and a wooden enclosure built by the pupils.
Like all secondary schools, this is for boarders. It lies in Lyamungu in the northern hills of Tanzania approaching Mount Kilimanjaro. The academic standards are high. All instruction is in the medium of the pupils’ third language, English (Swahi1i being the second language and a tribal tongue the first).
From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., apart from a break at 11 o’clock for porridge, a European style curriculum is followed. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day all pupils work in the farm.
They are fifteen per cent self-sufficient at present in terms of food production and cash income from the sale of coffee fruits, and are aiming at twenty-five per cent self-sufficiency in the near future.
School and work in Tanzania: a pile of maize and a bundle of cotton in a primary school classroom in the desperately dry interior; a fully-fledged coffee farm and small-holding at a secondary school in the fertile North. Both indicate a means of offering every child the dignity of work that makes an actual contribution to their country.