Exam failure suicides show the brutality of our education system

Saturday March 02 2013

It was the reports of suicides that really got me down. For any young person to conclude that life is not worth living because they have failed their Form IV National Examinations is a travesty.

It is a stark reminder of the power we have given our formal system to determine the fates of young Tanzanians. That is a lot of power.

We’re going to have to ask some difficult questions of the people we have vested with that power.

We haven’t always been this bad at education. It takes time, and effort to dismantle an education system as thoroughly as we have done.

Hey! Maybe if the government formed a commission to investigate… oh, wait. It already has? How predictable of us. Education professionals, experts, watchdogs and activists have been saying for years that there is a problem.

In fact, they have been telling us what the problem is in great and documented detail. I trust that the government’s commission will refrain from wasting taxpayers’ money by repeating what has already been said while trying to convince us that it has come across new information.


As for ritual punishment, whether Minister of Education and Vocational Training Shukuru Kawambwa resigns or not is immaterial. In fact, it is too easy an option and it distracts from the problem at hand.

Our members of Cabinet have a disconcerting habit of continuing their ministerial careers anyways, after a disastrous stretch.

Resignation, like a Samurai suicide to expiate shame, is a romantic gesture with limited constructive possibilities.

That said, if we’re going to go that route, we may as well start planning whom to fire in 2014 and turn the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training into a yearly carousel of sacrificial lambs. Because that’s how you fix a deep and complex problem affecting a deep and complex system.

So, by all means, Dr Kawambwa, fall on your sword. Or not. Whatever. Just, please, spare us any squirming or squealing.

Maybe if Dr Kawambwa had been in the position for a minimum of one Form IV education cycle plus at least two more years, I would say he’s had enough time to show true ineptitude in his management of his portfolio and serve him one more spoonful of responsibility.

In that vein, there are a couple of former ministers whom we should be questioning as well. But why stop there? The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training only does some of the work — the thinky technical bits.
The day-to-day running of secondary schools is done by the Prime Minister’s Office, Regional and Local Government (PMO-RALG) which hands that job over to Local Government Authorities because we’re Decentralizing by Devolution (D-by-D).

See what happens when acronyms proliferate like fig leaves all over documents to cover up the fiddly bits?

So. PMO-RALG. Minister Hawa Ghasia has been in her current post for even less time than Dr Kawambwa, but we now have another candidate for spurious resignation. Shall we throw Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda onto the woodpile too? Only seems fair, really.

How about the Director of the Secondary Education Unit? Please join the queue of those who should be burned on the pyre of public fury.

Whoever is responsible for making sure that teachers are paid on time? Treasury, is it? Maybe Minister of Finance Mustafa Mkulo could stand in line too. As for you who employ and deploy public school teachers, you too. There’s got to be some culpability there.

Anyone who calls themselves a school inspector, front of the line. Yes, in front of Dr. Kawambwa. Shame on you.

Procurers of things for secondary schools: Where were the textbooks and supplementary reading, hm? The laboratory equipment? Stand right behind those school inspectors. We’re going to build us a bonfire! Just because the biggest log is the formerly glorious political party that has presided over the death of education doesn’t mean we don’t need kindling.

To save time, can we just admit now: Next year’s results are going to be despicable too. One year is too short to effect a significant improvement, so if the numbers are miraculously better in 2014 be on the watch out for grade-inflation and other manipulations on the part of the government.

Let’s just be clear about one thing: Don’t blame the kids. They have no say in picking their education service providers. We have let them down. What it’s going to cost us in the long run doesn’t bear thinking about.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, E-mail: [email protected]