Claimed and yet forgotten – education in Tanzania

By: Petronella Murowe

“For poor people like us, education should be an instrument for liberation.” (Nyerere). 

The rights to education and access to information are fundamental human rights. Poverty breeds conditions where people lack the basics – clean water, good nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. Usually it isn’t just individuals, but communities who are poor and unable to invoke their right to education and access to information. 

High levels of poverty often correlate with low income levels, poor housing infrastructure and little or no access to information on how communities can change their lives. In Tanzania, driving from Mtwara into the Lindi region, you take in fresh air and breathtaking views of thick cashew nut, mango and coconut tree forests. In the wet lands lie a variety of crops, mainly grown for family consumption or for sale to local villagers. There are few transport options for taking local produce to different markets and reaching clinics or other facilities.

These are the dominant characteristics of the Lindi /Nachingwea landscapes of Tanzania. Thirty kilometers in the West of Nachingwea, in the South of Tanzania, the district has a total of ninety eight primary and twenty six secondary schools. Out of the twenty six secondary schools, fourteen are functional. The others have become white elephants – no teachers and few school children. Nachingwea was once rated as one of the best districts in terms of education performance – but is now hardly active.
In this community lies a serene place, a former Frelimo military camp, now known as Farm 17 Secondary School. It was constructed and once manned by nationalists who were fighting for democracy and the end of colonial rule. Water tanks, electricity cables, sunk deep wells and telephone cables are there, albeit vandalized.  You can just picture the endless discussions about how communities could emancipate themselves from colonial rule and fight for equity, equality and access to all freedoms.

The school head tells his story – in his eyes is sadness and concern. With his meagre salary and skeleton staff, he is struggling. He really wants to make an impact on the lives of the children, but is it possible in the forgotten farm school?

Farm 17, a national monument and museum was turned into a secondary school in 2000. This was when there was infrastructure in place that could be used for community gains. The Ministry of Education  claimed this property and started using the once vibrant space. This is the place where Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe, Sam Nunjoma and other prominent political leaders were once trained and housed.
Today it is derelict and vandalized.

The school has no direct water source, no health institution available except a small matron’s office which administers a few pain-killers.  The open dormitories have broken windows and children sleep on the floor. There is no means of transport and no electricity.

The average student comes from a middle class/ poor family. She sits with fifty other students in a similarly poor condition – broken floors, shaky, squeaky desks and chairs. Their teacher, a young man, is poorly motivated. Very few teachers stay for more than a month – they leave for better opportunities and parents are left to hire teachers, some of whom are unqualified – in a desperate attempt to educate their children.

This school is an alien world, which effectively seeks to offer knowledge. It begs the question – does anyone care for quality education and the environments in which the education is taking place?

Tanzania’s leaders acknowledge that the failure of communities to access information and ignorance creates barriers to development. The Education and Training Policy (1995) stipulates that, “a good education system in any country must be effective on two fronts: on the quantitative level, to ensure access to education and equity in the distribution and allocation of resources to various segments of the society, and on the qualitative level, to ensure that the education system produces the skills needed for the rapid social and economic development……”. Can the  this statement be attributed to Farm 17, where the children do not have access to water, electricity, laboratories, or other basic resources for quality education?

 The right to education in article 14 of the international Convention on Socio-economic and cultural rights, ACWRC, UNCRC and other international protocols obligate state parties to provide resources for access to universal primary education. These parties should ensure that education is accessible, available, adaptable and affordable. The Government of Tanzania recognizes the central role of education in achieving the overall development goal of improving the quality of life for its citizens. (M Sitta, 2007) and considers the provision of quality universal primary education for all as the most reliable way of building a sustainable future for the country. The Tanzania Development Vision 2025 and the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty articulate the need to provide quality universal education for all as a means of developing sustainable communities. Tanzania like all its other African counterparts signed and ratified a number of international conventions including the Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The education sector in Tanzania receives the second highest percentage from the national budget allocations. It is significant to note that the 20% MDG target has been exceeded. However, the question remains: what impact are these allocations having on the delivery of quality education in the country? How do we close the gap between policy and implementation?

Despite the Tanzanian government’s strategies, there are still challenges, as can be seen at Farm 17.
Some good news is that the introduction of the capitation grant in the education sector overall has seen an increase in the supply of textbooks and other teaching and learning materials. This has led to an improvement of the book to student ratio, from 1:20 in 2000 to 1:3 in 2007. (Sitta, 1997).

Grants do however take a long time to reach beneficiaries because of bureaucracy.

The inspection and supervision of schools are also affected – often there is only one good vehicle to service the number of schools in a district. In an interview with one official, he had the following to say, “We have one vehicle which we use to take turns to visit the schools but at the moment it is broken down. Therefore, we have to request for a vehicle from our District Education Officer, who allows us to use his vehicle”. It is not an easy task to visit the schools and check if any meaningful education is taking place. 

Given the need to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, will farm 17 be part of the numbers to be counted?

How can such a monument be forgotten, when great leaders were nurtured here?

Will the gap between policy and implementation close, so that children at Farm 17 can experience quality education?


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