2 January 2018

Tanzania: Education Woes - Reform or Perish

Photo: Malaria No More
School children. (file photo).

It is 2018 so no better time than now, to wish good things for you all our readers. At the end of the year there was plenty of graduations one after another all across the country and the region.

It is Kuan Chung in the 7th Century who said, " if you plan for one year plant rice, if you plan for 10 years plant trees and if you plan for 100 years educate the children".

The truism of Kuan Chung statement could not be further from the truth .

Yet we must ask ourselves the vital question-is education we are providing to our young people providing the necessary skills for the challenges of today and the future?

Indeed Nelson Mandela chimed in that education is the most powerful tool to change the world.

We are reminded of these everyday by the huge gaps of hundreds of thousands of job seekers and the number of jobs that cannot be filled due to a lack of requisite skill sets.

It is ironical that in a region of critical lack of jobs there are skill sets that East Africa still has to look to among others China and the developed world to find suitable persons.

Next door Kenya seem hell-bent on reforming its education system. One has to say hell bent because the stakeholders have not been involved and carried along so that the review has the goodwill of all-thus making its implementation easy.

For some reason those in government are of the view that they know best. Not even teachers, educationists outside of government, academia, the whole kit and caboodle of the education value chain have been involved.

On the basis of the question, what do we want education to achieve for us, Tanzania has something to learn from the fiasco that is Kenya's attempt at education reform.

The political undertone, to begin with, seems to be paramount in the education reform decision making. It started with the promise of one lap top per child . It was wrong headed political opportunism campaign for the Uhuru Kenyatta led jubilee coalition in 2013. As would be it never came to pass.

You have to ask yourself whether in situations where teacher shortage is rife and learning materials as well as infrastructure inadequate, it was not a deliberate false campaign? Five years later, given it has failed the bureaucrats have come with a reform we must campaign.

The point is, what ails Kenya's education similarly ails Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. For the 50 plus years these countries have continued to train clerks of the job seeking type.

As Academician Wandia Njoya writes: "Because neoliberalism says that everything in the world should be run like a business, training in finance and business has become the only qualification to run anything, from hospitals to schools to national parks. East African media, and the East African public, now celebrate CEOs and not innovators, media personalities and not journalists and thinkers, politicians and not professionals. An anchor can become a commentator on politics and global issues using a scanty knowledge of history and economics, just because she did well on TV. An MBA can move through top positions in KWS, Equity Bank and Uchumi, without the public asking whether one can really run wildlife conservation, banking and retail with the very same skills."

In such an environment, there is no incentive for young people to take degrees in anything other than degrees which they think will catapult them to careers in politics, media, diplomacy, banking and non-governmental organizations. Students will shun careers in professional fields, and even more in the science ones. With the new curriculum, the government is essentially saying that it will transfer problem of professional and technical careers in the adult world to children by forcing children into career pathways based on quotas.

It is the in the interest of the future of East Africa that we answer the question what we need education to do for us. In that spirit we shall have begun the long journey.

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