Tanzanians of yesteryears still remember the days of elimu ya upe nchini. Introduced in 1974, Universal Primary Education (UPE) had, among many things, sought to improve children’s access to quality education in the country.
Those were the days when Mwalimu Nyerere declared war on three enemies: ignorance, diseases and poverty. Nevertheless, the implementation of UPE kicked off on a lower note with any Tom, Dick and Harry getting hand-picked on the streets in the good name of becoming a teacher.
Since then, the country’s education has never been the same again, with teachers bearing the brunt of holding the otherwise noble profession. It’s rather safer to say that it’s painful to be a teacher in a country like Tanzania if the hardships they go through are anything to go by.
Despite the fact that there have been numerous reforms in the education sector, teachers are yet to reap any fruit from the changes.
Instead, they have been locked in endless wrangles with the government when demanding their rights.
Early this month, a total of 720 primary school teachers in Bagamoyo District, Coast Region were pressing the government to settle over Sh 1billion in salary arrears.
The unpaid salaries include promotions under the time scale formula (TSF) since May last year.
Apart from salaries, the irate teachers also demanded unpaid allowances for transfers, postings and holidays. Teachers’ homes have also been a hard nut to crack for the government as teachers are forced to walk long distances from their residences to the schools every day.
But all these miseries somehow seem to have quelled down following the launch of the most touted education policy a fortnight ago.
The new policy
President Kikwete said the new policy was in line with Vision 2025 and takes into account global economic, social and technological changes.
The president assured the public that the new direction would take Tanzania to the next level, where the nation would have skilled workers with both practical and theoretical knowledge.
The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training has ensured that 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 says that unlike the current policy- which focuses on filtering and rejecting students without skills through final exams--the new one raises the number of educated Tanzanians with skills.
But the new policy has not gone down well with some education pundits, who have it that, this was yet another political gimmick from the government.
Though the policy has recognised teachers in various ways such as motivation, improving learning and teaching environments, it still remains to be seen if the promises will ever come into effect.
The policy has recognised teachers in various ways; motivation and improving learning and teaching environments. It has promised to improve their living conditions and more training workshops for science teachers.
Mr Godfrey Boniventura, acting executive director with HAKIElimu, a civil society organization, is sceptical that the policy will deliver on teachers’ promises.
“I have read the policy, unfortunately it is not so clear about teachers’ arrears, so far it had only paid Sh44bilion out of Sh61billion; it is not known when the government will pay the remaining Sh17billion,” says Mr Boniventura.
Though it is said to have delved into some of the common nightmares that affect teachers like teachers’ houses, incentives, training and insufficient teaching materials, the challenge still remains as far as its implementation is concerned.
He says: Nothing among these promises is new. Secondary Education Development Plan (SEDP) and Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP) mentioned all these, but we are yet to see any realization…only 4-6 percent of the promised houses were built.
What about teachers’ training?
According to Mr Boniventura, though the policy seeks to deal with teachers’ problems through a special body to avoid a ping pong effect from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and Regional Administration and Local Government, it still remains to be seen if the promises will be delivered.
“Generally, the suggestions I find in the policy are unimpressive, and I don’t expect new things from what we see today. The policy would have stated from the beginning to restore teachers’ dignity and articulate how that will be realised,” adds Mr Boniventura.
Talk of teachers’ training, the issue has for many years been on the agenda.
Eyebrows have been raised on the kind of training that those who aspire to become teachers will receive.
There has been limited training for teachers; on top of it all, at some point there used to be a three-month crash program for people who want to become teachers.
Those who had failed Form Four were enrolled for the crash programme and were within few days employed as teachers, thereby making the profession no longer a noble one.
Teaching is not the last resort
Some years back, Prof Jumanne Maghembe was on record urging those who had completed Form Four and Form Six to become teachers.
“Teaching should never be treated as a last resort, to become one you need to be qualified,” explains Prof Issa Omary, from the Open University of Tanzania (OUT).
Citing an example of countries such as South Korea, Malaysia and even Singapore, the academician argues that it is a privilege to become a teacher in the countries.
He says: This profession should not be a dumping site for failures, if you try to compare us with Russians, Americans and Japanese, you will realize that Tanzania spends less time in teacher training.
“We only spend three years in training them at degree level, good teachers are always self-made after graduation. Tanzanian teachers are never enrolled for in service or even retreats; this profession should never be looked down upon, there is no reason as to why schools do not have enough rooms for our teachers,” says the academician.
Tanzania Teachers’ Union (TTU) secretary general, Mr Ezekiel Oluoch says though the much touted policy mentions something about the Teachers Profession Board, it does not say anything about their continuous development.
“To me, this looks like a failed policy even before it’s implemented, much of it delves into the preambles which literary are not the policy,” argues Mr Olouch.
According to the TTU secretary general, the policy has not looked at the real problems that face Tanzanian teachers.
Worth noting is the fact that the policy mentions something about the establishment of a Teacher Service Commission (TSC), a body that will be looking into teachers’ grievances.
In Kenya for instance, the country’s teachers service commission has for many years been giving the government a serious run for their money whenever teachers’ interests are at stake. They’ve been calling for countrywide strikes whenever they felt that teachers rights were being violated.
At the moment however, it is only a matter of time before we realize whether the much touted policy set to start in 2018 will deliver on its promises or it’ll be business as usual for teachers.