A crippling shortage of teachers—rural schools brought to their knees

What you need to know:

  • The standard pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in primary schools is 40, but a recent analysis of government data, conducted by The Citizen, reveals that at least 58 per cent of public primary schools across the country have more than the prescribed threshold.

Dar es Salaam. As public primary schools recorded a phenomenal increase in enrollment figures this January, concerns over countrywide critical shortages of teachers resurfaced amid fears the situation is fast getting out of hand in some places —where a single teacher is managing a class of over 200 pupils.

The standard pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in primary schools is 40, but a recent analysis of government data, conducted by The Citizen, reveals that at least 58 per cent of public primary schools across the country have more than the prescribed threshold.

Recent data from the President’s Office, Regional Administration and Local Government (PO-RALG) shows that by last December, there were 91,772 public primary school teachers. The number fell short by 47,151 – which is almost equivalent to the total number of teachers recruited between 2015 and 2016 (45,528) in both private and public schools.

According to data obtained from the government’s open data portal www.opendata.go.tz, as of March last year, 9,358 public primary schools out of 16,083, surpassed the 40 pupils per teacher standard, raising fresh concerns over the success prospects of the free education policy.

PTR is the number of pupils enrolled in a particular primary school divided by the number of teachers available.

Of the schools with the highest PTR, there are 345 where one teacher mans over 100 pupils. The situation is even worse in 15 schools where a teacher manages over 200 pupils.

Five regions with the worst pupil-teacher ratio as of March 2016 are Kigoma (59), Katavi (58), Mara (55), Mwanza, Singida and Rukwa (54).

Kilimanjaro has the best PTR of 33:1, followed by Arusha (37), Dar es Salaam (38) and Iringa where one teacher manages about 39 pupils.

Among the top 10 schools with PTR of 200+, six are from Kigoma Region. These are Muhamani, Sokoine, Makombe and Gombe in Kigoma District Council; and Rukoma (Uvinza) and Muhunga in Kasulu town council.

The best pupil-teacher ratios were recorded at Sangasanga and Matambwe primary schools in Morogoro, and Irente Primary in Lushoto, Tanga Region, where one teacher has a class of not more than six pupils. Expectedly, these schools performed well in last year’s Standard 7 national exams, and topped at district level.

Improving over the years

While the average national pupil-teacher ratio has been improving over the years, from 54 in 2008 to one for every 42 in 2015, it took a negative turn after the re-introduction of the free education policy last year saw a dramatic increase in enrollment. By March last year, the national PTR had risen to 48.

It has been a different tale in privately-owned primary schools, which, by 2015, had an average pupil-teacher ratio of 25 against the government’s 42.

While at face value, the PTR looks promising, it’s a desperate situation for a significant number of schools in rural areas where some teachers are single-handedly managing more than 100 pupils, making effective teaching and learning practically impossible.

Suspended recruitment

Since two years ago, the government suspended the recruitment and re-allocation of new teachers citing budgetary constraints. This has left hundreds of teachers with heavy workloads.

However, the government says it will employ 40,000 new teachers this year to address the shortage.

A recent survey by The Citizen in public primary schools in Kigoma, Tabora and Morogoro regions suggests that there is a direct link between low PTR and high performance – meaning that should the government deploys more teachers to, especially hard-hit remote rural schools, there is a high possibility of improved results.

The survey was aimed at establishing how high pupil-teacher ratio affects performance. According to survey findings, public schools where teachers handle classrooms of more than 100 pupils performed poorly in the 2016 Standard 7 national exams, while those with average PTR performed better.

Mr Bernard Pius, head teacher at Chohero Primary School located on the Uluguru Mountain range, says the “situation is very difficult”. His school has arguably one of the worst-case scenarios in the country – for two years, it has had to operate with only two teachers.

The two teachers were handling 510 pupils by close of last year in December – from pre-school to Standard 7. How they do it, is the fit they have to tell the world.

“I teach from pre-school to Standard 3, while the other teacher, Mr Henry Matanji, handles pupils from Standard 4 to 7,” he says in a recent interview with The Citizen.

The school is among the 15 with an acute shortage of teachers in the country, according to official data, and had been performing poorly in Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results.

Last year, only six out of the 49 Standard 7 pupils who sat the national primary leaving exams at Chohero passed. It was among the bottom 10, according to the National Examination Council (Necta).

It’s the same situation at schools in Kigoma Region.

Head teachers at Sokoine, Bondo and Muhamani primary schools told The Citizen that the shortage of teachers was worse for Mathematics and English. The schools are forced to use teachers with no qualifications to just fill the gap.

Mr Mohamed Dalali Athuman, the head at Sokoine Primary School, said his 12-year-old school had 902 pupils and only 22 teachers by December, last year. Four of the teachers are in college. In Standard 1, a teacher handles167 pupils, while another has a Standard 2 class of 145.

The school needs an additional six to eight teachers to meet the national standard pupil-teacher ratio of 40. And like all the other schools suffering the same plight, there is a critical shortage of desks that has forced all pre-school to Standard 2 pupils to learn while sitting on the floor. But the school’s performance in last year’s Standard 7 exams was comparatively not that bad, considering the environment. Out of its 68 candidates, 38 (56 per cent) passed with a B or C. However, the school was number 25 out of 30 schools in the Kigoma District Council, and 193th of 275 at the regional level.

The lucky few schools

Interestingly, at Sangasanga and Matambwe primary schools in Morogoro District Council, where last year a teacher handled an average of six pupils, the pass rate was impressive – supporting the notion that the pupil-teacher ratio plays a major role in performance because the teacher has time to concentrate on individuals during class.

With a total of 69 pupils, Sangasanga which is within a military camp in Ngerengere, had 11 teachers at the end of last year.

A teacher had an average of six pupils. The school was number two out of 78 schools, and all the nine pupils who sat the Standard 7 national exam passed. It was the 33rd out of 384 schools at the regional level, and 770 out of 8,241 at the national level.

Ms Ruthbeth Mshana, the school’s acting head teacher, says even when a teacher has four subjects, it’s still manageable due to the low number of pupils per class. For example, if you teach four subjects, that means about 40 exercise books for marking. Any teacher can handle that with accuracy and easily assist slow learners,” said Ms Mshana.

A low pupil-teacher ratio has also proved successful at Matambwe Primary School. At the end of last year, the school, which is in the Selous Game Reserve, had 26 pupils and six teachers, translating into a PTR of 4.

“For the past three years, we have been leading the district in national exams. We have attracted some parents out of the game reserve who now want to bring their children here because of the quality education we offer, but we can’t take all of them because there are no hostels,” said Mr Hassan Kilindi, the head teacher.

Mr Kasseka Iddy, head teacher at Kaliua-Tabora-based Igombe Primary School, says teachers handling large classes have their biggest hurdle in marking class exercises. Some teachers, he notes, face at least 300 exercise books to mark every day.

“The government needs to consider the need in schools if we are to improve performance,” he says.

Mr Juma Kaponda, director of education management in the President’s Office (RALG), confirmed that the government would employ 40,000 teachers for primary schools across the country.

He said: “The directive has already been given to all councils to ensure that they reallocate teachers to those areas facing serious shortages, especially in rural areas.”

Zugimlole (Kaliua-Tabora). Passing through the main road along the Igombe Game Reserve, one gets the impression that there is no life beyond the scattered houses on the other side of the road. But 15-18 kilometres deep into the thick forest, are thousands of households – a large community whose livelihood revolves around livestock and subsistence farming.

It is here where, after a grueling 90 minutes on a bodaboda, I find Igombe Primary School – tucked inside the game reserve, a considerable distance from the main road that leads to Kaliua town in Tabora.

The school’s continued existence is one of the touching, if not miraculous, stories of survival under near-impossible circumstances.

From the acute shortage of teachers to the lack of accommodation, the problems that could have brought Igombe Primary down to its knees many years ago are many.

I took a trip to the school recently, where at sunset, I met the headmaster sitting outside his house with his wife and mother. The three were bemoaning the ravaging drought that has cast a dark cloud over this year’s farming season.

Established in 2012, Igombe Primary School is still relatively young – but the few years of its existence have been a harrowing tale of sacrifice and struggle for its administrators.

As of December last year, it had an impressive enrollment figure of 600 pupils – a mixed blessing, one can say, for the headmaster here – Mr Kasseka Iddy. There is no one to teach all these children in this hidden community. There is not enough the school offers in terms of basic facilities. But it’s a no-brainer why there is a shortage of qualified staff at the school. For one to understand how difficult life can be for teachers who dare settle here, Mr Iddy says the story begins right from where the thick forest welcomes you.

“The heaviest burden we have had to carry here is the lack of transport due to inaccessibility – it’s worse when it’s raining because not even bodaboda’s will make it through the forest,” says Mr Iddy.

On the day I visited, he had just arrived back from town where he had to handle school business at the District Council offices. It was around 5pm. While I was wondering how I would go back, my first question to him was how they survived in case of a medical emergency.

“We have lost a number of loved ones,” he tells me. Life here is a struggle for the head teacher and his team of 12. In the village, it’s also a daily struggle for clean and safe water. The cost of basic commodities is high, thanks to the inaccessibility of the place.

“There are times when I spend up to Sh120,000 per month on transport alone, to and from town. It’s a challenging life,” Mr Iddy notes.

A two-way bodaboda trip to Kaliua town costs Sh20,000, which is a lot for many villagers here. The fare is higher during the rainy season.

David Justine, whose motorcycle I hired for my trip, says they usually decline requests to the village after the rains, forcing many residents to depend on bicycles.

“If you are using a bicycle then you have to dedicate more than four hours for the journey. Still, it’s a few villagers who have bicycles. I personally don’t have one,” says Mr Iddy.

The infrastructure challenges have a huge bearing on education since the majority of pupils have to walk 10 kilometres to school. A round trip would be 20km – meaning not less than four hours of walking every week day.

Mr Flavian Nchimbi, the Kaliua District Education Officer (Primary), says there are worse fears for the pupils than the distance itself – they pass through a thick forest with all kinds of dangerous snakes.

“Igombe is inside a game reserve, so the teachers, pupils and community in general are frequently attacked by poisonous snakes and other harmful animals,” he says, “Scary as it may sound, this is an everyday reality for our pupils and teachers as they walk to school through the thick forest.