by Ben Taylor
Viral video prompts debate on corporal punishment in schools
Video footage of a teacher in Kagera Region striking pupils on their feet for allegedly failing to complete an assignment, has prompted much public debate, including among MPs in parliament. The video had been widely circulated on social media.
“This kind of punishment is creating unnecessary public panic,” said Edward Kisau, MP (CCM, Kiteto), and called on the government draft a law to completely end corporal punishment in schools. “Alternatively, it could be reduced to one stick,” he added as other MPs applauded.
“There are countries which have completely banned corporal punishment,” said Mr Abdallah Chikota (CCM, Nanyamba). “Considering the fact that we are currently reviewing the education policy, can we completely stop whipping in schools and find an alternative?” he asked.
In his response, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa explained that the teacher had been suspended pending a proper investigation of the case. “The government will not tolerate such kinds of punishment which violate the laid down procedures,” he added.
Guidelines require that caning should only be carried out by the head teacher or other person authorised by the school head and should be documented in writing. The punishment should not also exceed four strokes for each student.
Opposition MP Conchesta Rwamlaza (Chadema, Special Seats) challenged the Prime Minister who had warned those who recorded the video. “Sharing the video exposed the incident and helped the government to take action against people who would have been otherwise protected by officials,” she said. She added that the Prime Minister’s approach would only lead to people covering up the violence.
In response, Mr Majaliwa said his intention was to avoid unnecessary panic to the public and creating negative image against all teachers. “The teacher who recorded the video should have shared it with education officials for action,” he said.
Mr Saashisha Mafuwe (CCM, Hai) asked the government to regulate the way punishment was administered even in homes. “Such kind of punishment does not only occur in schools,” he said, “but also in homes. What’s the government comment on that?”
However, the Speaker, Tulia Ackson, did not allow the Premier to respond, explaining that it was out of the context.
Corporal punishment is very common in Tanzanian schools. After a similar video was circulated in 2019, Human Rights Watch commented that “corporal punishment is child abuse. It is brutal, widespread, and state-sanctioned in Tanzania. In recent years, Human Rights Watch has spoken to many children who are caned, punched, or slapped by teachers.”
At that time, President Magufuli expressed his support for the individual who was filmed caning the children, arguing that it was an effective form of discipline that had been used for many years.
There is evidence that this view has widespread public support. In a 2016 survey, 79% of Tanzanians said it was either always (8%) or sometimes (71%) acceptable for a teacher to beat a pupil.
“Immoral” Wimpy Kid books banned
The Minister for Education, Science and Technology, Prof Adolf Mkenda, has banned 16 books from use in schools and other education institutions, citing immoral content that violates the country’s cultural norms, morals and good practices in raising children. Speaking to reporters in February, Prof Mkenda warned schools with the stray books in their shelves, saying failure to remove them will attract disciplinary measures including risking the institution’s deregistration.
The list includes thirteen books by the author and cartoonist Jeff Kinney – the popular series titled Diary of a Wimpy Kid – as well as Sex Education: a Guide to Life. It appears that the other two titles listed by the Minister – T is for Transgender, and L is for LGBTQI – are not actually books, but are instead two lines of text from within a single book – An ABC of Equality.
The Minister did not give details as to what content in the various books had caused offence, though the ban followed a public outcry around reported “rampant” homosexuality in Tanzania’s universities. One MP, Frank Haule (CCM) made this claim, and shortly afterwards President Samia Suluhu Hassan publicly called on university students to resist “imported cultures” that go against Tanzanian norms.
It was therefore widely understood that the book ban stemmed from the same concern. This would make sense given the “titles” of the two non-existent books that were banned. However, there are no LGBT storylines or characters in the Wimpy Kid series.
The first book in the Wimpy Kid series was published in 2007 and since then 275 million copies have been sold worldwide in 69 languages, according to the wimpykid.com website. There have also been several film adaptations.
Dissertations for sale
University students in Tanzania are increasingly hiring individuals and bureaus to write research reports and dissertations on their behalf in exchange for money, according to an investigation in The Citizen newspaper.
The investigation discovered a rising number of bureaus and individuals who survive by writing dissertations and research reports for postgraduates and undergraduates. People running the bureaus have established offices around university campuses and have employed agents to target potential customers in colleges. Operators of the bureaus are lecturers, former lecturers, academicians, and other academically gifted individuals who have quit employment at universities to join the highly-paying work.
According to the article, the students prepare their research proposal and then contract the “academic writers” to do the rest of the work for an agreed fee. The report found the practice is particularly common among post-graduate students.
“You should first send me the title of your proposal that has been approved by your supervisor, then we can talk about the terms of my service; think of raising up to TSh1.5 million,” said a Morogoro-based dissertation writer (name withheld). Oblivious to the fact he was communicating with a journalist, the writer explained that he had been engaging in the business for the past ten years.
“What I want to assure you is that the dissertation that I’m going to prepare for you will sail. I have never had a case where a dissertation prepared by me was rejected; I know the standards and what exactly your supervisors want,” said the writer.
Another academic based in Dar es Salaam has admitted he has been making a living by writing dissertations for the past four years. He doesn’t feel guilty for the work, saying what he does is to help students achieve their full potential and realise their dreams. “What I do is help students fulfil their dreams. They give me concept notes or proposals, and I do the rest of the work. I collect data for them upon negotiations. At the end of the day, they must read the work and defend it. Now what’s the problem?” asks the writer.
One student – a postgraduate who had recently submitted her master’s thesis at a Dar es Salaam-based university – admitted to using these services. “Mine was prepared by a Kenyan for TSh1.3 million; she’s very, very good! Talk to her about yours and you will see for yourself,” she said.
A lecturer at an Iringa-based university who asked for anonymity admitted the problem was serious but was quick to defend those who engage in the activity. “Lecturers are receiving meagre salaries; they can’t maintain their families, so what they do is just one way of supplementing insufficient salaries,” he said.
“It is true that there are people in town sitting down and writing dissertations for students. I am the associate dean of the School of Education; we once discovered a trend, but I don’t have evidence that my students are engaged in this kind of cheating,” says University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Vice Chancellor, Prof. William Anangisye.
The Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) says it has established standards and guidelines for the purpose of regulating the quality and conduct of postgraduate training, research, and innovation. It says the quality assurance standards and guidelines it has set to check academic fraud and ensure ownership of work by students are being respected.
“Our work as TCU is to set minimum guidelines that must be adhered to by universities to ensure quality of education. The standards were set to ensure ownership,” says Prof. Kihampa.