GRAD 5104

Grad 5104 – International Education Systems: Tanzania

For the last two weeks in PftfP, the international students in the class have been discussing the education system in their home countries. I was born in, live in, and have completed all of my schooling in the United States, but I was a secondary school teacher in Tanzania and am familiar with some the topics my classmates from around the world have discussed, so for this post I’ll run through what I know about the Tanzanian education system. I will try to just present structure here, but there are a few places where it is important to understand the impact on the students – a few aspects of the system that seem to set up many students for failure – and I will draw some attention to these.

Main points
Tanzania was heavily influenced by a slave trade and colonialism – and the education system is based on the last of these external powers before TZ’s independence: the British.
– Teachers hold a very powerful position over students and are rather respected – the greeting of respect you use for those older than you is often used for teachers (I was often greeted shikamoo by people in their 30s-50s, despite being 20 & 21 in TZ)
– There is a chronic shortage of teachers – especially in Math & Science. More teachers are available for subjects such as Kiswahili and civics. It is not uncommon for schools to have insufficient or even no math and science teachers (English teachers, too)

Primary School
I had host-siblings in primary school in TZ, and lived within sight of a primary school, but did not teach in one, so my knowledge is somewhat limited here.

Standards (grades) 1-7
Medium of instruction – Swahili
Classes taught – Kiswahili, English, Maths, Science, Social Studies, Religion
Must pass a national exam – the NECTA, or National Examination Council of TAnzania – to proceed to Secondary school
Strong focus on health and the environment
Students typically go to the school nearest where they live, but there are private schools and even English-medium schools available in some populous areas of the country

Secondary School
I taught O-levels, so this is the area I am most familiar with.

Forms (grades) 1-4 (O-levels)
Forms 5 & 6 (A-levels)
Medium of instruction – English
Classes taught – Kiswahili, English, Maths, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Civics, History, Religion (and there may be some I’m forgetting)
Must pass the NECTA to pass Form 2, 4, & 6. Form 4 exam determines if you can proceed to A levels. NECTA is in English!
Grades I-V
Your Standard 7 NECTA results determine not only if you go on to secondary school, but where. Same with Form 4 NECTAs and A-levels
Schools can be co-ed, all girls, or all boys
Schools can be government or private
Schools can be boarding or local
School fees were abolished while I was in TZ. Before their removal, a year of public secondary school could cost around 300,000/= or $150 US. I heard of some schools where fees were over 1,000,000/=
The schedule for students runs from 5 or 6 am (depending on whether there is exercise or mazingira (cleaning up the school) until evening on Monday through Thursday, and the day ends early for Ijumaa so students can attend Mosque

Notes containing more opinions:
– The switch in medium of instruction is extremely difficult for students and presents a series of issues. One of these is that if a teacher uses a lot of Swahili to teach, the student may learn the material better, but be unable to understand the NECTA exams. If a teacher insists on English, they may compromise learning of the material but students have a better chance of understanding exams.
– A student must succeed in a subject in school to become a teacher of that subject in the future. Since there are insufficient science & teachers, even successful test takers may fail at these subjects – so if they want to be a teacher they cannot teach science and math, continuing the cycle of insufficient teachers.
– Students in urban areas generally have access to much better education than rural students.
– Women face a variety of challenges in school that boys do not. These vary by school and by geography. Some of these include risk of harassment or assault, expulsion due to pregnancy (this means permanent expulsion, they cannot return after the birth), high chore load at home limiting study time, expectations of passiveness leading to low classroom involvement, parent choice to pay for male children over female to attend school if they have insufficient money to send all children, expectations of in-school chores steeper for girls, expectation of marriage and child-bearing at a young age, and lack of access to pads/menstrual products leading to missed schooling or illness if unsanitary alternatives are used.
– Boys also face some unique challenges. The one I am most familiar with is the vijana stereotype. For those who fail their NECTAs to go to secondary school, opportunities for employment are often lacking. There is a stereotype of these youth lazing on street corners or around town that seems to predispose others to accuse them of crimes – for which opportunities to prove innocence are lacking & punishment can be extreme.

My knowledge here is severely limited. I know that teachers colleges train students who attend them in the subjects they were successful at in school. I believe this only requires an O-level education. There are some technical schools around the country. Fundis (craftsmen) can also train the next generation of carpenters, tailors, shoe-makers, etc. There are universities in Dodoma and Dar es Salaam for what I believe is more typical higher education from a western perspective, requiring graduation from A-levels. I assume there must be others in large cities like Moshi, Arusha, Morogoro, & Mwanza but couldn’t say for certain what options these would offer. Exam scores determine which of these a student is eligible to pursue. I know of one teachers college which offers a Masters in education with specialization on special education. Many wealthy students study abroad.


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