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Government set to improve primary education

In a pragmatic move to ensure education for all, Tanzania has embarked on yet another educational programme following disappointing results from the previous one. Known as the National Primary Education Development Program (NPEDP), it seeks to expand primary school enrolment, among other objectives. Will it succeed this time?
Zephaniah Musendo

Tanzania has embarked on yet another education experiment, known as the National Primary Education Development Program [NPEDP], which aims at expanding grade one primary school enrolment, among other objectives. It is aimed to sort out the mess created by the country’s first Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme initiated some 28 years ago, and which to many people was nothing but a disappointment. The latter ended with "universalisation of illiteracy rather than universalisation of literacy", said critics.

The Press received the previous programme with a lot of criticism viewing it as one that of falling education standards and chaos in primary schools. Parents built schools on self-help basis, but the schools were ill equipped and poorly staffed. But under the current programme, the government seems to have taken some efforts to avoid previous mistakes. While in the 1974 UPE programme parents were openly told to contribute to its operation, the 2002-2006 programme is funded by the Education Fund, enacted by an Act of Parliament last year.

The government has allocated US$10 for every primary school pupil aged between seven and 13 years. Unfortunately, children above that age group will not be entitled to that money regardless of whether they will still be in primary school or not. The National Assembly approved some US$6.5million for 2001/2002 budget estimates to finance the expansion and improvement of education under the National Primary Education Development Programme.

This is unlike the previous UPE programme where the government released only US$238,000 and which was then the single largest contribution ever made to education in the country. Each parent was required to contribute US$0.25 annually for each child in school and a total of US$ 750, 0000 were earmarked for collection, according to the Ministry of Education statistics. However, only 24.2 per cent of parents have actually contributed, writes Prof. I.M Omari of the University of Dar es Salaam and who is a co-author of a book on Universal Primary Education. He adds that the fee was retrogressive because a millionaire was expected to pay the same amount as a pauper.

The history of attempts to make primary education universal in Africa is not long. According to Prof. Omari, a few countries began tentative efforts in the early 1950s: Egypt -1950, Ghana -1951, Nigeria (Western and Eastern states only) 1954-1956 are samples. In 1961, African member states to the UN met in Addis Ababa and reviewed the education situation in Africa. By then only 16 per cent of school age children were enrolled in school and the proportion of children out of school exceeded 80 per cent.

The meeting resolved, with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) encouragement, to achieve a desirable educational pyramid and to have the basic personnel to move on to a universal education of high quality by 1980, which should be compulsory and free. The education would have a practical bias to mitigate rural-urban migration of school leavers. "The tragedy of the resolution is that the African states turned around to embark on massive expansion of secondary and higher education, both in number and budget allocations", says Prof. Omari. He adds: "The countries, Tanzania included, have not achieved universal primary education and are now experiencing unemployment and under-employment of secondary school leavers and university graduates."

So with these experiences of past failures, the Tanzanian government seems to have taken some precautionary measures in the current programme. The government has said it will not take higher grade pupils to teach their lower grade counterparts, as was the case previously, but will recruit 67,000 teachers by the end of the five-year programme in 2006, to reach the standard ratio of one teacher for every 45 pupils. Also a total number of 14,000 classrooms and 9,000 teachers had been budgeted for in the 2001/2002 financial year. The country’s late Vice President Omar Ali Juma revealed this last year when he addressed the Association for the Development of Education (ADEA) in Arusha last October.

The take-off of the programme in January this year was not negating surprises. While it took almost three years to see signs of stress in the previous UPE programme, it has taken hardly two months to see signs of stress in the new programme. By 1978 the old UPE programme was going beyond expectations and plans, a classroom meant for 45 pupils was serving 80 pupils while others were learning under trees. By January this year a classroom for 45 children accommodated 100 to 300 children in Dar es Salaam City. At one time the education ministry was contemplating on establishing tented classrooms.

Some schools had to introduce class shifts and others resorted to open-air classes. According to Deputy Minister of Education and Culture, Bujiku Sakila, a total of 1.3 million children must have enrolled for Standard one countrywide by the end of January 2002. The programme target had been to enrol 1.5 million by March. But the overflow of enrolment seems to have caused disappointment to both parents and ministry officials. Parents whose children had to be turned back because of lack of space complained. "They have told my two children to go back home and come back next year because they are over age, will they be younger then?" one parent queried. Many children are on the streets doing petty jobs, others begging.

Many more are still at home waiting for an opportunity to go to school; 60 percent of them are girls. Others are wondering whether the government has accurate data regarding the child population in this country. Indeed, the planners used census figures of 1988 to estimate the demands brought about by universalisation of primary education. The next census is planned for September this year. A similar case occurred in the previous 1974 UPE programme. The last census had been held seven years back in 1967 and the next one was to be in 1977. Therefore the ministry had no realistic data for its projections.

"Universalisation of primary education has received such great attention in developing countries that governments feel threatened when they do not talk about it during their budget sessions and in economic development plans," writes Prof. G. A. Malekela of the University of Dar es Salaam. "Yet the concept is not well defined and thus is used to mean many different things,'' he adds. For instance, UPE is used to mean the provision of spaces for all school-age children; or mandatory school attendance which entails enacting compulsory attendance laws; or universal accessibility, geographical, socio-economic and cultural; or enrolment of all school-age children in grade one primary school; or universal literacy. According to Prof. Malekela, some politicians give only lip service to universal primary education and in others, it is a more serious exercise, entailing accountability for the outcome of schooling.

He writes that normally politicians who wish to make a public declaration for political gains are primarily interested in universal grade on enrolment. The issues of compulsory attendance and quality of education are secondary. This was the experience with the previous programme. Sometimes politicians announce that UPE is free, whereas in fact there are hidden indirect fees to pupils' families for school buildings and equipment. School fees and contributions have been abolished but some school authorities were found to be charging fees and contributions in contravention.

The most important lesson is that ultimately UPE, no matter how defined, is a political issue in all societies, and because politics rule, politicians should be made aware of quality issues so that appropriate resources can be set aside for educational purposes, says Prof. Omari. Otherwise, he adds "UPE becomes compulsory mis-education.'' The new programme seems to have considered both quantity and quality. While the Deputy Minister Sakila admits that most primary schools face acute shortage of textbooks, the government had released US$5 million to district councils to ease the problem. In some of the schools between six and 15 pupils share one textbook. "The government's intention is to bring down the ratio to three pupils per textbook by the end of this year and subsequently to one textbook per pupil by 2006," he says.

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