Tanzania’s Education for Self-Reliance Policy together with Universal Primary Education (UPE), both of which caught the world’s attention as the country’s proudest achievements in fighting ignorance still do not have very much to show in achievement.

The present crisis of primary school leavers, as exemplified by the flooding of urban areas with an influx of young semi-literates who cannot get a place in secondary school or fit into rural life in their villages, appears to be both confusing and compounding.

It is confusing because the introduction of self-reliance was meant to adapt pupils to the realities of a country in which 95% of the population lives in a rural environment. The education reform was also meant to be a means of slowing the rural exodus into the cities, thus lowering the unemployment rate and preparing the youth for appropriate roles in society and working towards better living.

But twenty years later the migration of youths from the villages to urban centres has increased; so has the youth’s disillusionment as they confront the growing appreciation that urban streets are not paved with gold. And along with this disillusionment the young people question and disregard the relevance of mainstream social values, leading sociologists to fear that the costs of this attitude to individuals and the nation may be monumental. What worries them is the number of those growing up with a limited and hostile sense of life. For many, they say, the future is tightly hemmed in by horizons so narrow that moving out of poverty seems unthinkable. With no capital to make a living in their villages most of these youths, some as young as fourteen, drift to urban areas where, finding no reliable source of income, they soon drift into alcoholism, drug abuse, burglary, armed robbery, stowing-away and other unbecoming behaviour like prostitution.

But in a country where education has long been considered to be one of the basic social needs and accorded a high status, the situation raises some controversial questions.

Officials blame the young people who enjoy the benefits of a free education and go on to spurn facilities which society places at their disposal. But critics think society itself is to blame as these young men and women are merely victims of circumstances and forces they cannot control. As soon as they come out of school a stark, colourless life without any support is what greets them in the poor villages. Squeezed between poverty and indifference the urban streets look like the only outlet to them.

Critics of the existing education system say the problem has been caused by ignoring actual facts in overall education planning, notably the economic structure of the country and its growth trends which limit and overestimate employment opportunities.

Ministry of Education officials however counter that the current educational and economic systems in the country clearly depict the spreading of modern agricultural methods and appropriate technology, especially in the Villages. And while UPE has raised the literacy rate from 41% to 85% and this may have resulted in a considerable gap between the appreciation of rural facilities and their availability this is an achievement and a situation which every level-headed Tanzanian has to understand rather than condemn. The officials maintain, and very rightly perhaps, that those who feel disillusioned with the current situation in the villages do so for their own selfish ends and not because of lack of government goodwill and efforts to develop them – SHIHATA

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