Tanzania: What Next for Those Who Scored Divisions 4 and 0?

While some 152,909 students are celebrating the I-III grades they scored in the 2020 Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (CSEE), a relatively whopping 282,745 of their fellow classmates are floundering in the quagmire of virtual failure, having scored 0 or IV grades in the exam.

This is the sad reality on the ground. More than a half - 64.9 percent, actually - of the 434,654 students who sat for the Form Four exam last year cannot continue with formal secondary school education, having failed to attain the requisite Grades I, II or III to do that!

Although the National Examination Council of Tanzania (Necta) says examination performance had once again climbed by 5.19 percent compared to the previous year's (2019) results, a total of 221, 049 (50.7 percent) had nonetheless achieved a lowly Division IV grade, while 61,696 (14.2 percent) were zero-graded!

According to Necta, performance has been increasing. In 2017, the pass rate was 30.2 percent. This increased to 31.8 percent in 2018; 32.0 percent in 2019 - and to 35.10 percent in 2020.

As the pass rate increased, the number of students who obtained Grades IV and 0 had also been declining slightly. But, arguably, the numbers of failures are nonetheless alarming.

The percentages of Grades IV and 0 scorers together were 69.8 percent in 2017; 68.2 percent in 2018; 68 percent in 2019 - and 64.9 percent in 2020.

If nothing else, this has got education stakeholders' tongues wagging, questioning the seemingly growing inequality in education for our youth at a time when the fifth-phase government of President John Magufuli is pushing for free, quality education.

This is most saddening, indeed.

Take the example of 17-year-old Moses*, a student of the Oyster Bay Secondary School in Dar es Salaam who took the 2020 Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (CSEE).

With the dream of studying to one day be able to liberate his parents and relatives from seemingly endless poverty, Moses is now in a state of shock, after being zero-graded together with 73 other students of this popular school, whose exam results were announced last Friday.

Accompanied by his mother - who also looked tired and dejected - Moses had attended a church service in the city on Sunday morning.

"I am very hurt by the examination results," Moses said, welling up with tears.

He says he is the eldest child in their family that resides in the Mbagala suburb of the city - and that their father abandoned the family when he was still a toddler, unable to care for them. In the event, the burden of bringing up the family was left to his mother, whose business is selling roasted maize on a Mbagala street pavement.

"I decided to abandon the schools in Mbagala and joined the Oyster Bay school because I believed it is a school at which I would perform well.

"It is a government school which provides free education, and I have to wake up very early to start the journey to school on foot when I don't have the fare. Sometimes, my mother would give me Sh400 for the round trip fare," the young man says, oozing emotion.

During the Covid-19 schools shut-down early last year, Moses found himself helping his mother to roast and sell maize to boost the meagre family income - doing so at a time when his schoolmates from wealthier families were studying and doing homework digitally and on TV.

His dream was to pass his Form IV exam, join Form Five - and go on to graduate for a well-paying job. Alas, this does not seem possible now, he says - solemnly adding that: "If my family were as capable as other wealthy families, I am sure I would not have failed this crucial examination which I struggled to pass for the sake of our family!" explains Moses with tears in his eyes.

About the school

One of the school's officials who sought anonymity, says it was ironic that the school suffered from a heavy infrastructural weakness, juxtaposed with the surrounding community which is awash with top government offices and international institutions.

Established by the colonialists more than 50 years ago as a primary school and later transformed to secondary by the government in 2006, the school currently accommodates students from poor backgrounds after those from well-off families got transferred when the school started experiencing a downward spiral.

The school official reveals that the school is, among other things, known to have in 2015 admitted a child belonging to one of the top leaders in the country, even though the student was later transferred to a renowned private school in Dar es Salaam.

"Change Tanzania's executive director Mariah Sarungi and many other notable figures are the school's alumni, but they've since lost connection with the school," he says.

He adds that the institution had been abandoned, yet students from poor backgrounds who mostly reside in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam City were the ones trekking long distances for studies as their parents believed that the school was still a better place for learning.

Encouragingly, although Moses still doesn't know what to do, he believes that he will be able to reseat Form Four so that he can at least get a good grade.

His mother, Beatrice Ayubu, 41, says she believes God will help her firstborn so that he can, later on, help his younger siblings.

"I can't blame myself for not being able to send my son to a better school, we will just find a way out," said the sympathetic mother.

Moses' case is a reflection of a wider quagmire experienced by a total of 61,696 students (14.2 percent) who got zero grade in CSEE.

"This is also a group that education stakeholders and the government as a whole should not ignore as the nation increasingly has a pile of examination failures every year who may likely have potential in other key sectors," says Dr Veronica Deus, an expert from University of Dodoma.

Dr Veronica says the number of successful candidates should be higher than that of failures, signifying a rise in academic performance generally.

"It's good to be happy with the increase in performance because it's a big step, but we must also look at why so many students are still failing and what their fate is," she tells Success.

For his part, retired leader of the Tanzania Teachers Union (CWT), Ezekiah Oluoch says the situation is compounded by the increase in enrollment which is not in line with the increase in educators.

"More than 4,000 schools are located in rural and ward levels where teaching environments are difficult, few teachers who are not even motivated, lack of textbooks according to the proportion of students, and children sitting for long periods without food deprives them of morale to focus on what is being taught," says Oluoch.

Technical institutions

Although there is a chance for this group to join technical institutions, statistics from the National Council for Technical Education (Nacte) show that the number of students enrolling in these colleges is still small compared to the number of students who score grade IV.

For instance, with over 400 registered technical colleges in the country only a total of 151,969 students had enrolled for the academic year 2019/20 up from only 82,217 students in the academic year 2014/15 according to Nacte.

However, the current increase is associated with the ministry responsible for Regional Administration and Local Government, directly sending form four graduates to technical institutions.

"Formerly students would decide for themselves but now PO-Ralg is directing them to our institutions. However, the student themselves either confirm that he or she joins the institutions or not," Dr Anastela Sigwejo, Nacte's director of curriculum development and assessment told Success recently.

But, Dr John Msumba from Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) says even though technical education plays a crucial role in the social and economic development of a nation, parents have been discouraging their children from seeing mid-level institutions as an option.

"Most parents still believe that if a child hasn't gone to Advanced Secondary or university, he/she is not fully educated, yet we have evidence that students we produce here (DIT), some have their own companies, many have been employed and we provide a platform for further studies," he says.

Possible solution

Dr Msumba says that to make the youth who couldn't go beyond Form Four to see the importance of technical education, there is also a need to educate parents and the society at large to stop the mind-set that higher education is the only way to success.

"Here, we train students to become entrepreneurs and job creators. We put emphasis on skills because they cannot be great entrepreneurs if they lack necessary skills," he says.

Oluoch notes, the government should allow parents to donate food to schools so that even if children complete the eight-hour period, they can study until evening. He says this will help those who return home and don't get a chance to study.

Since not all of them will have the opportunity to continue with Form Five in private schools, Oluoch opines that vocational colleges need to be empowered so that they can accommodate them in large numbers.

"This is where technical colleges come in. In order for our country to prosper it will need 65 percent of its people to be skilled in various fields through technical institutions," he explains.

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