Dar es Salaam — Sister Annette Farrel, a Holy Union Sister from Ireland has been working in Tanzania's education sector since September 1983. With the decades of experience, hers are bold and radical opinions to restructure the education system of Tanzania for the betterment of its people.
Currently the Director of the Holy Union Sisters Debrabant High School in Mbagala, Dar es Salaam, a school she helped set up in 2000, Sister Annette argues in this republished interview with The Citizen that the education system is supposed to cater for the needs of students with various capabilities. She's apparently troubled that what needed to be done to improve the quality of education in Tanzania education not happening. Excerpt...
You've been working in Tanzania's education system for over three decades. How would you assess its progress?
I can say the country's education sector is growing in quantity but not universally improving in quality. This is because there are a lot of students but not sufficient planning and investment.
For example, you have one teacher doing the work of three. This is not uncommon, go to any school and you will see for yourself. We were hoping that schools would get more teachers, but that is not the case.
But what specifically are you dissatisfied with the system?
There is one big issue in the education system today but I don't hear anybody talking about this except myself.
When I came to Tanzania in the 1980s, the secondary section was so tiny that only seminary and a handful of public schools had secondary schools, but there were very good academic programmes.
The programmes suited the people who were chosen to be in secondary schools at that time, the youngsters prepared to be the crème de la crème.
They had to have high academic ability as well as good character and then when they get into seminary they had excellent programs from the department of education and they had books, electricity, a good diet, football and all other things that suit learning. This was not only the seminary but also to the government schools which were very excellent as well.
But today, there is only one programme for everybody.
So children who have no ability in mathematics and no interest are forced to do the same exam as their counterparts brilliant in the subject.
It's like every child who gets into secondary school is preparing to go to the university.
This programme could perhaps only suit about 10 per cent and neglects the other 90 per cent. I ask myself, what are the curriculum planners doing in Tanzania?
We need comparative education system with various programmes to suit different levels of abilities. In any society, you have a small fraction of people who are geniuses and a fraction of average and below-average but are good at other skills which should be developed.
But in our schools today, there is no regards to drama, arts, music, little regard for sports, and it's all cramming.
What can be the implications of this one-programme-suits-all system in the country's educational development?
This system is a disaster in the country's quality education dream as we are sacrificing the majority for the few.
Just look at the results, it can tell that the current system is not working. It needs a relook and appropriate measures are taken so that the system can work out well for all.
Maybe the government sees the expansion of programmes as expensive, what do you think?
That's wrong, it won't make any sense at all to be paying so many teachers throughout the country to produce the kind of results we find in Form Four.
That's a waste of money, which is expensive in itself.
The children in our schools deserve better and not constantly tortured by programmes that are beyond them and that they are not going to succeed in.
There is this debate on what language should be used as a medium of instruction between English and Kiswahili, what are you for?
I am for both. I strongly believe that there are some subjects which could be taught well in Kiswahili and others in English.
We find so many students are battling and struggling with English and it's like a fighter fighting with one hand behind our back.
When I was working at the vocational training school in Kunduchi [St Gasper Vocational Training Centre], the language was Kiswahili and it was such a joy to teach, the children knew what they were learning, we didn't have to translate everything.
I'm not saying that English is not important, English is equally important; it's the language of higher education and will remain so for a long time to come.
It's said that Kiswahili is not used as a full medium of instruction because it is not sufficient in terms of vocabulary, particularly, for science subjects.
It's not true because much of the actual teaching is done in Kiswahili, anywhere, up to university level, most of the conversations and discussions are carried in Kiswahili.
Then if you will ask me why people are raising this point or why that's not the case [that Kiswahili is not being used as a medium of instruction], I think it's a matter of political will and there are always two different sides on every issue. But as far as I know, a child in Germany will be comfortable to learn in German, so do the children in France, Portugal and others.
In the second part of this interview tomorrow, Sister Annette will give her assessment on Tanzania curricular and how the country can plan and develop it.