With a per capita income of just around $310 in 2000, Tanzania’s march towards achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDG) was a remarkable story – a very poor country putting so much effort into so many areas. Tanzania won’t achieve most of the goals, but the efforts it has made are noteworthy.
One goal that stands out is the MDG 2: to achieve universal primary education by 2015. With the abolition of tuition fees and the introduction of the Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP), which increased the number of classrooms and new teachers, Tanzania saw rapid improvements in primary enrolment. By 2010, the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) had reached 95.4%, from 54.2% in 1990.
In 2010, the country won the MDG Award for education. I might have been the proudest non-Tanzanian, since as the MDG focal point there, I submitted its case for the award. After receiving the award, the Tanzanian Prime Minister noted, “This award is like putting fuel on an engine.” That is exactly the argument we made in our submission.
Of course, not all agreed with the award. Questions arose from locals and development partners as to what Tanzania has done to receive the award.
Tanzania had not achieved the goal by then. In fact, it might even miss achieving the goal by the end of this year. Yet, being a developing country lying at the bottom of the development ladder, Tanzania’s efforts are notable. The award has encouraged the country to take the next steps to achieve 100% NER, increase pass rates, and improve the quality of education.
While Tanzania has taken several steps to address the above issues in recent years, it needs to pay special attention to quality improvements in education. When the tuition was abolished, people automatically reacted positively. But with time, as they perceived that there is no substantial gain in sending children to school (in terms of securing better employment), some started to put less value on education. This has been exacerbated by the low quality of education the children receive. If parent see that their children cannot read at their respective levels, it can have negative effects on their perception of education.
Teachers are at the heart of the quality of education. Poor wages seem to attract only those who cannot find jobs elsewhere. Joining the teaching profession is a last option for many, and the majority have performed poorly on exit examinations. In the classroom, pupils seldom get a chance to learn for the full five hours as required. Instead, on average they are taught for just two hours because most of the time teachers are not at school. Lack of a proper learning environment is another challenge. Large class sizes, lack of class rooms, equipment and other basic facilities such as toilets, water and electricity not only affect the quality of education but can keep children away from school.
Tanzania needs to look beyond the traditional approaches to improving education. Family income plays a key role in children’s education. While Tanzania has had more than a decade of high growth, poverty remains high as growth has not been inclusive. Little attention has been paid to the role of the private sector in education, which could relieve the fiscal burden.
It is time for Tanzania to turn a new chapter under the Post-2015 development agenda to make education the gate way in its renewed efforts to nation building.