The President has appointed a Commission to review the country’s education system, including the extension of education, curriculum development, administrative structure, equipment and materials. The review is to cover the past 19 years and make recommendations for the next 20.

In view of the central role of education in the development of Tanzania’s social philosophy and the changes which the system has been expected to absorb, it is reasonable for this kind of wide-ranging review to be made now. However, it seems likely that a further and more immediate reason is to provide a response to the widespread and increasingly vocal criticism of the system of seven year primary education which is now provided for all children. The criticisms of education in Tanzania are very similar to those being made in the debate on education in Britain. There is the same questioning of the results of investment, the same confusion of legitimate concern and holding the education system responsible for all of society’s problems.

Tanzania’s primary education system has been ‘very rapidly expanded under the double pressure of the introduction of universal primary education and a rising population. Universal primary education (UPE) was brought forward as a result of a political decision. Those concerned with implementation were aware that it could not be done without reducing standards, but official, public acceptance of this consequence would have led to the same result by destroying morale in the teaching service and reducing public confidence in schools in advance of the expansion. UPE required great effort and dedication from large numbers of people and it was important to give them the maximum of political support. The Minister had to make a particular effort to maintain confidence of parents in the thousands of additional teachers who were trained in villages using the methods of mass adult education which has been developed by the Institute of Adult Education.

UPE was introduced during a period of continuing economic crisis which has produced shortages of even the most basic school materials, not only books, but paper and pencils (it is said that some schools have been without pencils for two years). Even without the increase in pupils the school system would not have been able to fully maintain the quality of its service.

The problems of rapid expansion and shortage of supplies could, eventually, be overcome but despite the clear and repeated statements on policy, the question of what primary schools are for has not been resolved; the intentions of ‘Education for Self Reliance’ have not been worked into a curriculum which is understood and accepted by parents and teachers.

Teachers have been required to take on a wide range of additional responsibilities for which they have no special training such as adult education and community leadership. There has. been little time for training or even thinking about what and how they should be teaching in their schools.

The proportion of primary school pupils who can obtain places in secondary schools, always low, has fallen further as primary numbers increase. The rewards of a secondary and higher education produce strong parental and social pressures for pupils to pass the entrance examination. Despite the theory the education system remains highly competitive and examination oriented and therefore biased towards children who are academically gifted and have the support of educated parents. The requirements of the Secondary entrance exam still dominate the primary curriculum so it is still divorced from the real needs of most pupils.

There is little social acceptance of the primary school leaver as being adequately educated for life in a rural community. The teaching has not helped pupils to support themselves, but neither have they learnt the traditional skills which would make them of practical assistance to their family or village. The sense of failure, rejection, wasted time and lost income remains strong. Hence one innovation the Commission is likely to be considering is the establishment of post-primary village level technical education, drawing on the experience of the District Folk Development Colleges, or even the Kenyan village Polytechnics.

As in Britain quite legitimate questioning of aspects of the education system is expanded by some into wholesale condemnation and the cause of all social problems. It is claimed that pupils completing seven years of primary school are not up to the same standard as those who went through the old primary and middle school system. This must be true of many pupils, since the old system was highly selective and only the very best were allowed to continue to the end of middle school. It is not clear if there has been any reduction in the standard of the best pupils under universal primary education – some secondary school teachers would claim that there has – and the question needs proper research.

Many of those who have successfully passed through the education system have found employment in the large state trading, production and crop marketing organisations. These organisations carry at least some responsibility for the country’s economic difficulties and are popularly believed to be incompetently, if not corruptly, managed. ‘Why’, it is asked? ‘can the school system not produce competent staff and staff with sufficient civic and political education to resist corruption and be courteous and helpful to customers?’ This may not be a fair question in view of all the pressures on young people, but it is an indication of the concern of those who pay for the education system.

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