Zanzibar — Shortage of desks and classrooms for pupils in primary schools may not be a major story in the media, but how the government and the education stakeholders are overcoming the challenges would be something worth reading.
When in January 2014 Zanzibar marked its 50th Revolution anniversary, President Ali Mohamed Shein declared the revival of Free Education Policy (FEP) starting last July 2015. The programme has created a positive change because it has resulted in significant increase in enrolment in many schools, described as a laudable achievement.
However, serious challenges emerged in the implementation of the FEP, which include congested classrooms, limited facilities and shortage of qualified teachers, which may negatively impact on the quality of teaching and learning on one hand and indiscipline on the other.
The 'new' free education policy is being implemented concurrently with new basic education structure of 2-6-4 (two years of nursery, six years of primary and four years of secondary education) instead of the 2-7-2 (two years of nursery, seven years of primary, and two years of secondary education).
Nursery schools were incorporated as among the compulsory education following the approval of the reviewed education policy in 2006.
The establishment of nursery schools has increased from 238 in 2010 to 279 alongside training of nursery school teachers. There are also about 244 private nursery schools, an additional advantage for parents to take there children to school.
According to the education guidelines, parents of children in nursery to Standard Six are not supposed to contribute anything while parents of children in secondary schools are required to contribute 5,000/-, 7,500/-, and 10,000/- annually for forms 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6 respectively.
During the election campaign last year, Dr Shein promised voters that he would also abolish contributions (fees) in secondary schools, including examinations fees, should he remain the President of Zanzibar.
On January 11 this year, schools in Zanzibar were opened and children started with a new hope as the government assures provision of teaching and learning materials and improvement of teachers' welfare.
The Director of Pre-Primary and Primary education in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Ms Safia Ali Rijali, said the government has been overwhelmed with turnout of children joining primary schools. "It is a big success with challenges," she says.
"Enrolment of Children this year surpassed our targets. In both nursery and primary schools, we were supposed to have 35 to 60 students in each classroom, but we have up to 200 students in a class!" she added.
She said in some schools such as Kinuni and Mtopepo Primary Schools, Standard One pupils range between 600 and 1,000, while there is a shortage of classroooms.
"We are determined to enrol all children for nursery and primary education. As teachers we are prepared to bear the burden of having more than 70 students in a single classroom, but never deny a child to join primary school," she said.
She encouraged parents to ensure that all children -- including those with disability -- are enrolled in schools because education remains the key to the development of individuals and the nation.
Zanzibar's move to strengthen FEP is as per Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that 'Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.
Elementary education shall be compulsory... " "Teachers and parents should collaborate in ensuring children remain in schools to complete at least the basic education," said Ms Rijali, citing more challenges facing the education sector. She said her office has been working closely with stakeholders and development partners like the Milele Foundation, South Korea, OPEC, China, and the World Bank to increase classrooms and renovating of old buildings.
"We appreciate the support provided by development partners as the government struggles to have more teachers by training them to handle the overcrowded classrooms," Ms Rijali said. She supported the Minister of Education and Vocational Training Mr Ali Juma Shamuhuna in motivating teachers to handle the congested classrooms.
"We are on track, the enrolment of children has been a priority of the government in ensuring that all children in the islands get compulsory education, and that no effort will be spared in registering children to join primary education," Shamhuna says. Teachers say that although the country has taken the bold step to revive FEP, the challenges should be overcome.
"We need additional instructional materials especially textbooks, reading materials, reference books, exercise books and other stationery," Mtopepo Primary School teachers said.
"We need a modern library and laboratory, and improved teachers' welfare." Educationists argue that quality education for all requires healthy, well nourished and motivated children; well trained teachers and adequate teaching aids. The first step towards free primary education was in 1964 during the regime of Zanzibar's First President Abeid Amani Karume.
The main idea was to encourage more parents to retain their children in school. Unfortunately due to economic difficulties in the early 1990s, the government asked parents to pay fees, learning materials and buy uniforms for their children.