Dar es Salaam — The government yesterday pledged to organise a national forum on education as it contemplates to make comprehensive reforms in Tanzania's education system.
Through the proposed dialogue, the government will be able to come up with concrete solutions to address issues of unemployment, lack of skilled and competent human manpower.
The Minister of Education, Science and Technology Prof Joyce Ndalichako said this when she delivered her closing remarks during the fifth edition of Mwananchi Thought Leadership Forum (MTLF) on Education with the theme, "Empowering Youth with Relevant Knowledge and Skills'.
The forum held at Kissenga Hall on LAPF Millennium Tower at Kijitonyama in the city, brought together about 800 delegates from the government, private sector, international organisations and agencies, schools and individuals to discuss the agenda on the improvement of education in Tanzania.
The education minister doubled as the chief guest of the edition which was organized by Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) in partnership with the Ministry of Education, ITV, Radio One and Unesco.
Referring to the proposed national dialogue, Prof Ndalichako revealed Unicef Tanzania has offered to fund such a forum which she said has been on the cards. However the minister did not give the date for the said dialogues but assured all stakeholders will take part.
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She made it clear that the door was open for other partners to join hands with the government in the preparation of the dialogue.
"I commend Mwananchi Communications Limited for organising this forum as it has offered a platform for education stakeholders to share views and broaden the agenda on education transformation," said Prof Ndalichako.
The government's move to organise the national dialogue has been longcoming following grwoing pressure from leaders and other parties interested in the improvment of the quality of education in the country.
Yesterday the minister's pledge sparked diverse reactions from stakeholders who welcomed the idea and also advised that more initiatives be consired to attaim maximum benefit.
Speaking to The Citizen over the telephone yesterday, Mr Ezekiah Oluoch, former deputy General Secretary of Tanzania Teachers' Union (TTU) called for an independent commission to conduct a thorough assessment and evaluation in the sector and come up with a comprehensive policy. "They should learn from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere whose 1995 policy via a commission revolutionalised the sector," he said.
Mr Oluoch said it was sad that the ccurrent education policy -2014 was drafted without consulting the key stakeholders.
"The policy so formulated should fully address challenges of infrastructure, education curriculum, teaching language, etc," said Mr Olouch.
Mr Nicodemus Shauri, the programme manager from Tanzania Education Network (Tenmet) appealed for extensive research to inform the way forward.
"Organising the dialogue alone won't yield impact if not backed by concrete and evidence based research," said Mr Shauri. For her part, Ms Annastazia Rugaba, the Advocacy Manager from Twaweza applauded the government for the idea, raising optimism that the initiative would help in strengthening partnerships for the sake of quality education.
"For many years we have been crying for such a dialogue. It is something that has come at the right time. We will have an opportunity to discuss and identify areas of interest" said Ms Rugaba.
During the MTLF, among other issues, the stakeholders raised their concerns about a need for the improvement of education curriculum to enable the academic institutions to generate competent personnel to compete at the job market.
Moreover, the stakeholders raised concerns about the medium of instruction in learning, saying the cross use of English and Kiswahili was not useful.
Prof Lughano Kusiluka, Vice Chancellor, Mzumbe University at the forum said, "Apart from the present weaknesses, the curricula in the higher learning institutions has contributed enough in producing people with the ability to suit the labour market as you can see them run the economy," he said.
Prof Kusiluka said that various reports have shown recently that Tanzania's economy has been growing steadily and that wouldn't be the case if the country's workforce doesn't possess the necessary knowledge and skills to participate in economic activities.
An official from The National Council for Technical Education's (NACTE) Dr Gemma Modu defended that the council conducts a thorough assessment and evaluation to determine demand of a certain profession in the country's job market.
"The exercise also involves full participation of stakeholders from the private sector and development partners," said Dr Modu.
But according to Dr Godfrey Telly, an educationalist with the regional advocacy group Twaweza, the country's curricula do more harm than good to the country's young people.
"Most children tend to be more confident when they have not started school. But soon after starting school, it's like their confidence is taken away from them," said Dr Telly. The researcher pointed out that the country has undergone various changes in its curricula at various educational levels, changes that have been motivated by various factors.
A majority of speakers at the forum aired live on ITV and RadioOne were of the view that Tanzania needed to urgently formulate a learning experience that empowered youth to be self reliant. They said the government should not wait to draft a policy to fix a problem but be ahead in anticipating trends and patterns of the modern economy.
Calls were made for joint partnerships with the private sector to raise resources and bridge the skills gap.
Speaking during the opening session, MCL managing director, Mr Francis Nanai said the number of participants proved that education issues touched lives of the majority in the country.
"This is the fifth edition of the forum, but truly speaking we have never got this attendance. This means, education issues are more sensitive to Tanzanians, therefore they want to know possible solutions to various challenges facing the sector," he said.
Delivering her closing remarks, the education minister Prof Ndalichako reassured the stakeholders that the government would put into consideration all the issues raised by the forum.
She further reiterated the government's commitment to cooperate with the private sector and other development partners in transforming the education sector.
She said she had learnt alot at the MCL forum and urged the organisation to continue the good work it was doing to promote development in the country.