We are building Tanzania on the quicksands of education system

Saturday February 11 2023
Students of Al-Haramain Secondary School

Students in class at Al-Haramain Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on June 1, 2020. PHOTO | ERICKY BONIPHACE | AFP


“Now go and see if you can find the same levels of enthusiasm in the Standard VII students,” my boss told me. I had wandered away from the school tour we were supposed to be enjoying courtesy of a haggard primary school headmaster.

We had been travelling across regions, and I was done with the adults and their troubles in providing education. It all seemed so very hopeless: Late salaries, dreadful teaching conditions, no materials, barely any government contact.

Some of the schools I had seen were more like missionary outposts — deep in the wilderness, isolating educators in societies that didn’t know what to do with this stranger from the metropole come bearing curricula and chalk that ran out in the first season. These sole teachers of hundreds of pupils almost always had a haunted look in their eyes.

My favourite people

My boss had tracked me down to my favourite people: the Standard Is and IIs. The fresh recruits into the education system were my medicine during these education project tours of duty. As they sparkled with enthusiasm, showing me what they knew about numbers and letters, I knew that there was a point to showing up at work every morning. There was no confusion in my 20-something brain about my passion for my country and humanity when  surrounded by laughing children.

But my boss could always retrieve me from this utopia by taking me back to look into the eyes of Standard VII students. Teenagers with long and sullen faces who stared back at us suspiciously. More adults, more nonsense to put up with. They were already betrayed by the education system, they knew they were only fodder for statisticians and planners and Ministry of Education budget talks. Top-down subjects never trickled down to income security, development, hope. They were not the clean-pressed children of the metropoles and private schools. They were tired and disillusioned long before they got their grades confirming that only one or two of them would make it to secondary education.


This year’s results have been coming out, for Standard VII results and Form I intakes and Form IV performances. In the fog of parental disappointment, student despair, government blah, blah, blah... all I can see is the hard stare of Standard VII pupils in rural Tanzania asking: Why do you keep failing us? What are we supposed to do? What have you done to make us Now and Future-Ready Children, Citizens of the World?

Fantastical suggestion

When the Minister of Education casually says in 2023 that we should teach computer coding in schools, I understand what is implied in that fantastical suggestion. I get it. And we will talk about the advent of ChatGPT, AI, its implications for Tanzania.

But before that, can we get into why we are failing our children? The majority do not transition from their happy intakes in Standard I to confident Standard VII leavers excited to continue to secondary school, well-grounded in reading, writing, arithmetic. With every year of lamentable examination results and impossible government promises, I fear that we are building our living state of Tanzania on the quicksands of our education system. And the implications of this are unacceptable.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]