Dar es Salaam. The newly-launched education system has abolished national examinations for primary school leavers and extended basic education to four years at secondary level—meaning students will sit their final examination after 11 years in primary and secondary school.
The policy makes Kiswahili the medium of instruction from primary school to university level, thereby ditching English —which has dominated Tanzania’s education system from secondary to tertiary level.
But it will take decades for the new system to take root because extensive preparations will have to be carried out before English is phased out. The policy, which President Jakaya Kikwete launched yesterday, also gets rid of school fees at both public primary and secondary levels and guarantees free education.
President Kikwete said the new policy was in line with Vision 2025 and takes into account global economic, social and technological changes. “In the next seven years, we will have built capacity whereby every child who starts Standard One will reach Form Four,” he said during the launch of the policy in Dar es Salaam.
But, given the timeframe, there are doubts that the new policy will yield significant results in the next decade. Critics say school fees in public schools are just a small portion of the cost of education, given that parents are required to make numerous contributions.
According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Prof Sifuni Mchome, the new education system will incorporate vocational education in the basic education syllabus so that students who do not make it to Form Five have skills to contribute to the development of the country.
“It’s our hope that when students complete this basic education, which is compulsory up to Form 4,” Prof Mchome said, “they will be at an age ready to contribute to the country’s development.”
Unlike the current policy, which focuses on filtering and rejecting students without skills through final exams, according to Prof Mchome, the new one raises the number of educated Tanzanians with skills.
“We need a critical mass of skilled labour for the country’s development,” he explained, “but you can’t get it through the current traditional system, which only filters and children go back home after failing Standard Seven final exams.”
Mr Kikwete declared it a significant day in the history of the education sector and said the new policy was a must so the country could proceed in line with global economic and technological changes.
The President assured the public that the new direction would take Tanzania to the next level, where the nation will have skilled people with both practical and theoretical knowledge.
Is Kiswahili a solution to education woes?
Speaking yesterday during the launch, the assistant director for policy at the ministry of education and vocational training, Mr Atetaulwa Ngatara, said it was proper that Kiswahili be the channel by which the skills are transferred to students. Language studies will then be available to enable students to communicate in English. “To think that learning in English will lead to students communicating in English is wrong,” he said. “Communicating in English is something else, which has to do with language studies.”
The document says the government will continue strengthening English in teaching along with Kiswahili during the transition period because using only Kiswahili will require a lot of resources.
Kiswahili is currently the language of instruction at primary level and English remains a subject. Thereafter, English becomes the language of instruction from secondary level to higher learning.
According to the policy, making Kiswahili the language of instruction at all levels of education is aimed at bringing sustainable efficiency in providing the skillful workforce that is needed for national development.
But in a globalised economy where English dominates almost everything—from trade to politics—it is not clear which way Tanzania wants to go in the next five decades.
After years of being driven by market forces, private schools in Tanzania will have a regulator to ensure that the cost of education is realistic and provides value for money. The idea is to make sure that school owners do not overcharge parents who shun public schools in search of quality education in the mushrooming private schools.
President Kikwete said the policy would set indicative fees for private schools and put an end to the exploitative fees some unscrupulous school owners charge. Consistency in text books
The policy also provides consistency in both text and reference books used to teach in both public and private schools, contrary to the current situation where every school chooses what it considers suitable. This will eliminate the trend where schools use different books for the same subjects, which has been blamed for the poor performance of students.
“It’s impossible that every school uses its own reference book when the final examinations are the same,” the President said. “How do we expect children to pass in these conditions?”
No national examination for Standard Seven
According to the assistant director for policy in the ministry of education and vocational training, Mr Atetaulwa Ngatara, students will be tested to check their level of understanding at each level before they get to Form 4. “Let’s say there will be a test at standard three,” he explained. “Teachers will arrange special programmes to help those who fail to get over their weaknesses and they can then proceed to another class.”
But judging by the fact that the reading culture has almost died off, dropping national examinations for primary school leavers will likely have negative consequences in terms of the quality of graduates.
The new policy further declares that the government will make nursery education compulsory for not less than a year for children aged between three and five.
Basic education—from Standard One to Form Four—will take 10 years. Standard One pupils should be aged four to six, depending on ability of the child, and the government will ensure that education at this level is free.
According to Mr Kalistus Chonya, an economist in the policy department of the ministry, implementing the new policy will not happen immediately as the policy must go through several more stages.
The document President Kikwete launched was a national policy that will produce an executive policy. It will then lead to a Bill that will be tabled in the National Assembly.
Mr Chonya, who was not in position to say when the new policy will take off, said there were still other stages to be worked on, including preparing strategies and an action plan.