Education in Tanzania: A series of near-misses
A hungry girl presses against her classroom’s smashed window to look outside. Surely maths is over and it is time for lunch, she seems to say. As if her thoughts had been read, an older pupil darts into the courtyard to sound the bell, a steel cylinder that hangs from a tree. Hundreds of pupils sprint out of classrooms to stand in line for their makande.
The mix of beans and maize will be the only meal of the day for most of the children here at Makuyuni village primary school in northern Tanzania.
It is for Zainab Athumani. The 16-year-old started primary school five years late at the age of 11, because her mother, an occasional cleaner, could not afford the $1,12-a-year lunch fee or the uniform.
Since Zainab started classes, she has taught her mother to write her name and repeated to her what teachers have told the class about how to protect against HIV. But school is tough. “It can be difficult to concentrate when you are hungry,” she says.
“Hunger? We’ve never had a serious problem with people going hungry here in Tanzania,” says the Deputy Education Minister, Oliver Mhaiki, when asked what the ministry of education and vocational training is doing for children like Zainab. As his government sees it, Tanzania is an education success story. And in some ways, for a country where 18,7% of the population live on less than $1 a day, it is.
Primary school fees were dropped in 2005 and the number of pupils who have enrolled since has doubled, to what the government says is now 97,3% of the primary-school-aged population (seven- to 13-year-olds). Unicef says Tanzania reduced its primary-aged out-of-school population from three million to fewer than 150 000 between 1999 and 2006.
If you take what the Tanzanian government says to be true, the country is well on its way to achieving universal primary education by 2015—a target set by international leaders in Senegal in 2000 as part of the Education for All goals, and the second of the millennium development goals (MDG). The ministry of education is so confident of this, it states in its statistics book published in June that by this year “all children aged seven to 13 can be enrolled”.
But look deeper than the official statistics and education in Tanzania is an altogether different story.
There are 73 pupils in Zainab’s maths lesson. They sit in a dank classroom with holes in the ground and cracks in the ceiling. Samwel Sarakikya, the maths teacher and the school’s headteacher, uses a broken protractor to teach Pythagoras’s theorem.
The school has a ratio of one teacher to 63 pupils. Unesco says a “good quality learning environment” should have no less than one teacher for 40 students. The charity ActionAid estimates that class sizes in Tanzania have risen to one teacher for every 53 students now, from one teacher to 40 pupils in 1997. The ratio is worse in rural areas.
While Mhaiki says each primary school receives $10 per pupil, Sarakikya had just $5,30 to spend on each of his 1 010 students in 2008. So far this year he has received nothing.
Joseph Kisanji is director of the Tanzania Education Network (Tenmet), an umbrella group of more than 200 Tanzanian and international community-based and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). He says the real enrolment figure for primary-aged children is closer to 77%.
Of these, he estimates as few as 20% will complete their primary education.
Some, like Sophia Lairumbe, will not even start it. The 15-year-old from the semi-nomadic Masai tribe has never been to school, although she lives 6km from Zainab’s primary school.
Dressed in a torn “shuka” (Masai women’s sari-like dress), she explains how she once wandered into a school on her way to church to see what it was like.
“I would have liked to have gone to study and play with others,” she says.
But her father forbids it, especially now she is engaged to a Masai man 10 years older. Sophia’s daily life will continue to consist of fetching firewood, cooking and helping with the cattle. Soon, she hopes, she will be looking after children, too. If she has daughters, she wants them to go to school.
Only very recently have some Masai started to send their girls to primary school.
Domestic chores and family illness keep others, like Nastura Jonas, from school. The 11-year-old lives with her grandmother and twin brother in a dark hut made of mud and branches.
This is her uncle’s home and he is away. Water has leaked into Nastura’s home, a much smaller hut, turning the floor to mud. She is in broken sandals and a school uniform so torn you can see her underwear. She is playing hopscotch by carving out squares into the dusty earth with a branch.
She explains that she must look after her grandmother, “Tatu”, who is ill with kidney troubles.
Her parents are dead. Before school, Nastura must fetch clean water and brush down the ground outside her home with straw. She is often late for class because of this. Three or four days a month, when her grandmother takes a turn for the worse, she misses school to look after her. The chances of Nastura completing her primary education are slim.
While primary school tuition fees have been scrapped, Tanzanian parents are expected to contribute to other costs, such as uniform, a cooker for lunch, the cost of the school guards and, in some schools, a donation to the Aids bereavement fund for pupils who have lost one or more parents.
In Zainab’s school this amounts to 2 500 Tanzanian shillings a year ($1.80). Costs like these keep some children from completing—or starting—their education.
Girls here face a number of extra obstacles. Many pupils walk 10km or more to school. They must look out for rapists who sit and wait for them, Tanzanian charities and the government admit. If pregnant, under Tanzanian law, girls are thrown out of school as punishment. They cannot come back later.
Toilets are mixed and often without doors, causing girls embarrassment, particularly as they hit puberty.
This is the real picture of Tanzanian education, says Gloria Minja, from ActionAid Tanzania. She is highly sceptical about her country meeting the MDG and the Education for All targets set for 2015.
The third MDG is to “eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education”. The second Education for All target is to “ensure that all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to a complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality”.
“Good quality? Ha!” says Minja. “The government is very proud of its enrolment figures, but enrolment is not enough. It is the quality of education and the completion of primary school that matter. To me, the attainment of the MDGs is unrealistic.” Minja cares about longer-term change, beyond 2015, she says.
The Tanzanian charity sector is working hard to achieve this. The NGO Maarifa ni Ufungo (“Knowledge is the key”) works with ActionAid in northern Tanzania to convince parents to send their children to school and tries to make schools more “girl-friendly”. It has set up after-school clubs and is setting up a club for girls who do not attend school.
Charities send women who have spent several years in education to talk to communities and pupils in the hope that they will see them as role models.
Naishiye Johnson (34) is one of these. The primary school teacher started school at 10 and left at 17.
She is a Masai and had a hard job convincing her community elders that she should be sent to school.
“My education means I can teach my four children about nutrition and be a better mother to them,” she says. She has begun to change the minds of her own community. Her two daughters, Gladnees (10) and Pendaele (12) started school aged six.
The Tanzanian government acknowledges that some improvements could be made. Next year it is expected to make it legal for pregnant girls and young mothers to attend school. It has started to set up boarding schools for girls to ensure they are not preyed on by men on their way to and from classes, and plans to build an extra secondary school in each district.
But if Tanzania is to get anywhere near the targets international leaders have set for it, it will need more international aid.
Mhaiki says that although his government has reduced its dependency on foreign aid from 40% of the country’s budget to 30% this year, it “can’t do without it”.
But where are extra funds to be found when big donors such as the UK are in economic turmoil? Unesco, in its Global Monitoring Report for this year, says: “The most recent data tell of a slowdown in aid for education and even more so in aid for basic education.”
The enthusiasm with which billions of dollars were pledged across the world four years ago seems to be dissipating. Back then, international leaders pledged to increase foreign aid from an estimated $80-billion in 2004 to $130-billion in 2010.
In 2005, it was $110-billion. For the last two years, the figure has fallen to under $97-billion. Will the UK live up to its promises? If it does not, the consequences could be catastrophic. The UK is the second largest donor to basic education in low-income countries such as Tanzania.
Last week, in his speech to the US Congress, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterated his commitment to the MDG. “Perhaps the greatest gift our generation could give to the future,” he said, “the gift of America and Britain to the world could be, for every child in every country of the world, the chance millions do not have today: the chance to go to school.”
Janet Convery, ActionAid’s head of schools and youth, believes the UK government is “strongly committed” to maintaining international aid, despite the recession. But she is worried by the plummeting value of sterling, which has reduced by up to a third the worth of some of ActionAid’s contributions.
Minja believes Tanzanian charities and NGOs will start to suffer next year from the recession in the developed world.
In the 1970s, a global oil crisis meant Tanzania borrowed a large amount from the International Monetary Fund. The money was given on condition that the public sector was cut to stop rising inflation.
Teachers lost their jobs, and money for textbooks and teacher training was almost wiped out.
In the 1980s, Tanzania almost achieved universal primary education, but it had accumulated a crippling debt burden and by 2000 the proportion of pupils enrolled for primary school had dropped to 57%.
Education in Tanzania has been a series of near-misses. Many now fear the next decade could be another one. - guardian.co.uk