Spectre of poor quality education stalks Tanzania

Saturday May 18 2013

Parents largely blame the government and teachers for the decline in standards. TEA/FILE

Poor quality education is eating away at Tanzania’s skills base, denying the country the human capital it needs to grow.

A survey, which revealed that secondary education is headed for a crisis, has put the spotlight on the government.

Twaweza, an education-focused think-tank, released the results of the survey, which indicate that parents largely blame the government and teachers for the decline in standards.

The survey showed that based on student learning assessments, mathematics and English reading competence levels are disturbingly low, confirming the national examination results released in February.

The results showed six out of every 10 students who sat last year’s National Form Four examination in Tanzania failed. Only 126,851 passed the examination out of the 397,132 who attempted it. In 2011, 53.6 per cent passed, and 50.4 per cent passed in 2010.

The survey shows that 72 per cent of sampled primary school students and 66 per cent of secondary school students could not carry out a multiplication test meant for Class 2. Moreover, a large majority of students in primary school could not answer a comprehension question for a story in English or Kiswahili.


The inability of students in secondary schools to comprehend a Standard 2 level story in English, when English is the language of instruction, is troubling, Twaweza said. It paints a grim picture of literacy and numeracy skills in Tanzanian schools as it shows children in schools are not learning.

“The massive investment in education in the past decade has not yet translated into learning gains for students. The government will need to review evidence of what drives learning and adjust its policies, programmes and goals accordingly. Transforming teacher motivation, effectiveness and accountability are at the heart of this challenge,” said Twaweza in the May 15 survey.

ALSO READ: Tanzania moves to put schools under local govt

Respondents overwhelmingly perceived a decline in the quality of secondary education over the past 10 years, with about 8 out of 10 citizens (83 per cent) indicating that they felt education had deteriorated. This is consistent with official statistics including the Ministry of Education’s Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania.

Results released by the Ministry showed there was massive failure in last year’s Form Four examinations, which saw the government nullify the results and order a fresh rating.

READ: Shock as 60pc of Tanzania students fail national exam

When probed further, parents reported a shortage of textbooks for their children. At primary level, nearly 6 out of 10 parents (55 per cent) report that their children have no textbooks; at secondary level, some 5 out of 10 (54 per cent) said that their children have two or more textbooks. However, secondary school students are expected to have a minimum of one textbook per subject for between six and nine subjects.

“Parents are clearly aware that the education system is failing their children. They are trying to play an active role in their children’s education and are asking teachers and the government to do the same,” said Elvis Mushi, a researcher at Twaweza.

A quarter of the parents interviewed said the government must increase the number of teachers in schools to boost the quality of learning while 17 per cent said the government must work towards improving the quality of teachers.

While at least 13 per cent of the parents advised the government to increase teacher salaries and pay teachers on time, five per cent said the government should inspect public schools often.

In its latest assessment of Tanzania’s education system, the World Bank says the poor quality is seriously hampering the country’s competitiveness in the region.

READ: (Commentary) Tanzania must review education standards to compete in region

The poor quality of education could be hurting the country’s ability to create skilled jobs and compete in the regional economy.

It could also deny it the critical “21st century skills”, such as information literacy and ICT literacy, critical thinking, creativity, innovation and intellectual curiosity, which are the pillars of a knowledge economy.