EDUCATION SPECIAL REPORT: Hostile environment in schools: The past meets the present

Friday May 23 2014

Standard One pupils in class at Mutukula

Standard One pupils in class at Mutukula Primary School, Geita Region. PHOTO | FILE 

By Lucas Liganga

Between May 21 and 25, 2007, I carried out a five-day survey on Teaching and Learning Processes in Secondary Schools in Same District, Kilimanjaro Region.

The aim was to establish how teachers do their work, the methods they use, how and whether pupils are involved in the learning process and the role of parents in their children’s education.

I visited three secondary schools—Kwakoko, Kibacha and Kasepombe—all on the outskirts of the district. Kwakoko and Kasepombe were then newly-built schools in the government’s drive to absorb the massive number of pupils completing primary education. Kibacha was built in 2004.

A growing number of public schools are built by communities with the assistance of the government. The situation is more or less the same in most schools in Tanzania today.

I interviewed teachers, both qualified and non-qualified, and a handful of students whose views were largely representative of those of their schoolmates. My survey established that the government’s rush to construct new secondary schools was not carried out in tandem with the provision of basic necessities to make the learning environment conducive.

Basic necessities, including teaching aides such as textbooks for both teachers and students, were unavailable.

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Most of the schools had no qualified teachers, which could lead to a generation of half-baked students who cannot cope in a globalised world. Most of the teachers had undergone the one-month crash programme for Form VI leavers who generally scored low pass marks.

To add insult to injury, almost all the teachers interviewed accused the government of not taking care of them—a euphemism implying they were not given incentives to boost their morale.

The hard way

The students were also learning the hard way: They had no textbooks and had to walk long distances to and from school, meaning they were too tired to concentrate on their studies. Moreover, they learned on empty stomachs.

With 70 Form I students, Kasepombe Secondary School was one of those built under the supervision of the  government to absorb the high number of pupils completing primary education under the five-year (2002-2006) Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP).

The new secondary schools were part of implementation of the government’s five-year (2004-2009) Secondary Education Development Plan (SEDP) that aimed at improving the quality of secondary education and expanding enrolment to 50 per cent by 2010. This entailed a rise in the number of pupils from 430, 000 in 2004 to two million by 2010.

SEDP focused on improving the teaching and learning environment by constructing new classrooms and rehabilitating old ones and providing textbooks and other teaching and learning materials and desks.

It also focused on recruiting quality teachers as more children were enrolled and construction of teachers’ houses in order to improve their working conditions.

Trainee teachers

At Kasepombe, I interviewed two trainee teachers—Didas Mkumbwa from Korogwe Teachers’ College in Tanga, and Manase Mpukwini from Monduli Teachers’ College in Arusha.

Mr Mkumbwa said the learning environment in the school was not conducive at all because the students relied on textbooks provided by trainee teachers.  Two classes with a total of 70 Form 1 students shared a book each for English, Geography, Biology and Kiswahili.

In the circumstances, he said, there was no participatory learning—which is very important in moulding young brains. If they are not allowed to participate, pupils tend to become dull. They are not creative and easily forget what they are taught.

He and a colleague from Monduli Teachers’ College were the only two “teachers” at Kasepombe Secondary School, which had only one qualified teacher. They were on leave but decided to stay on and earn extra money.

They were using their own books, which they brought with them from college. The school did not have a single textbook, the teachers confided. Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics had not been taught since school re-opened due to lack of teachers.

The opening of the school had been delayed for three months since the academic year for secondary schools begins in January. Almost half a year later, the students had not started learning Physics, Chemistry and Maths.

Mr Mpukwini wondered how students without books were expected to perform well in the 2008 Form II examinations. Construction of a laboratory for science practicals remained a pipe dream and Tanzania should not expect to produce scientists who could push the country to prosperity.

The two trainees taught History, Geography, English, Biology, Kiswahili and Civics and were concerned that if teaching aids remained unavailable in the newly-built schools,

it would be case of  “a generation of semi-illiterates is in the making”.

The Headmaster of Kwakoko Secondary School, who identified himself only as Mkumbwa, said when the school opened on April 15, 2007, he recruited four Form VI leavers and trained them for a week on the ABC of teaching. He called it a case of students teaching students.

Besides the lack of qualified teachers, Mr Mkumbwa said, the school also did not have textbooks, water teaching aids.

According to the headmaster, the only qualified teacher then, the school with an enrolment of 140 pupils had not received a single cent from the government and got stationery on loan from a shop in Same town.

The academic timetable had been cut short so the pupils could go home for lunch since the school did not provide food. This had a negative impact as the pupils could not keep up with the curriculum, Mr Mkumbwa said.

Part of life

Ms Penuel Abel, a second year trainee teacher from Marangu Teachers’ College in Kilimanjaro Region, said the teaching environment was not conducive but this was just part of life.  She took it all as a challenge she had to live with since she had made the decision to join the teaching profession.

Ms Abel, who taught Kiswahili and English, said most of the students did not understand English despite the language being essential in a time of globalisation. “I have to talk, talk and talk,” she said.  “And when I find the going rough, I resort to teaching in Kiswahili.”

At the end of the month, Ms Abel earned Sh50,000—which was good enough since she was still living with her parents, who provided the basics. The trainee appealed to the government to improve teachers’ pay or it would them all. 

Professional teacher

Mr Elias Mshana, who completed Form VI at Mwenge Secondary School in Singida Region in February 2007, earning Division III in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics (PCM), said he decided to teach because he was idle at home but he  intended to eventually  become a professional teacher.

Ms Modesta Michael, who had a Division IV in Chemistry, Biology and Geography (CBG), said she took up teaching because she needed a job.

The Headmaster of Kibacha Secondary School, Mr Julius Hamza, said most teachers dispatched to new public secondary schools after a one-month crash teaching course were incompetent.

With more than 15 years of teaching experience, Mr Hamza likened the crash courses introduced by the government to “a serious joke”.  He said it was almost impossible to get a competent secondary school teacher in such a rapid and intense course of training, undertaken in an emergency.

He said teachers “manufactured in a period of one month” were nicknamed “Vodafasta teachers”. Vodafasta is an electronic airtime distribution and recharge service created by Vodacom Tanzania, the cellular phone network provider, to enable speedy and secure sale of prepaid airtime credit from Vodacom through its super dealers to various sub-distributors and vendors.

Under the crash programme, the new teachers were taught lesson plans and scheme of work only. These Vodafasta teachers were not a solution to the problem (of shortage of teachers), Mr Hamza said. Only improving the work environment would do. Some teachers had apparently reported for work only to abscond due to the hostile teaching environment.

Ms Elizabeth Assenga, Kibacha Secondary School’s second headmistress, advised the government to start planning for the construction of advanced level secondary schools that would absorb tens of hundreds of students completing ordinary level education by 2010.

She added that it would have been very difficult for the government to start constructing schools in 2010 for one major reason—it was an election year where every politician would have been busy seeking re-election.

Mr Lucas Mndeme, also of Kibacha, said the construction of secondary schools at ward levels would have a negative impact in future as students would not get the exposure required for learning.

One of the negative impacts of this trend was that students would not be exposed to new geographical areas, which would widen their knowledge as they got challenges from students from different areas, said the teacher.

According to Mr Mndeme, it is not easy for students born and educated in the same area to drop their native language. When they go home from school, they speak that language only. In such circumstances, it is difficult to grasp English.

Learning within their native environments also does not give students enough exposure to hold their ground in a competitive academic learning environment—as was the case during “the good old days when one went to a secondary school afar from one’s native village, district and region”.

Joining a secondary school far from one’s place of birth is touted as having positive effects, including exposure and a competitive learning environment created by a mix of different communities from different regions. Praygod Elinaja Aminieli, a Form I student at Kasepombe Secondary School, does not mince his words when he says he and his 69 colleagues and himself are learning the hard way. 

The 16-year-old says the school first had an English textbook one and a half months after opening on April 10, 2007. The school is located some 15 kilometres south of Same town.  The book was lent to the school by one of two trainee teachers. The school has only one Kiswahili book—and has been borrowed from Bangalala Secondary School in Vudee area.

Learning environment

Praygod , a student, prayed to God that the government improved the learning environment before he despaired.

He said since his school opened its doors there are only two teachers and as a result they had not started learning some of the subjects, mentioning the subjects that he had yet to learn as Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, the core subjects for grooming the country’s future scientists. Praygod said he woke up at 5am ready for a one-and-a-half-hour walk to the school where he spent the whole day without food.

To add insult to injury, there was no water in the school and the neighbourhood. The scarcity of the precious liquid forced students to walk to Mlulu River, situated some two kilometres from the school to fetch water for school use.

Praygod said if nothing was done to rectify this sorry situation the future of their education was bleak.

Praygod’s concerns were a reflection of most of the mushrooming secondary schools built by the government throughout the country to accommodate the massive number of pupils completing primary education.

Beatrice Ismail Mohamed, also a Form I student with Kasepombe Secondary School, admitted that learning in English was not exposing her to wide knowledge because she said English was a difficult language to understand.

But her knowledge of current affairs also proved to be razor thin when she failed to name the then country’s Prime Minister, Edward Lowassa, and the then Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Margaret Sitta. In other words she failed to name her minister.

A similar situation faced Kwakoko Secondary School situated two and a half kilometres north of Same town where it did not require the brains of a rocket scientist to find the low understanding of English among students.

And the low understanding of English was proven by 17-year-old Form I pupil -- Shedrack Mnzava -- who when asked: “Who is the Prime Minister of Tanzania?”  The young man confidently replied – “Yes”.

When the same question was repeated in Kiswahili, Shedrack shook his head saying: “I thought you had wanted to know whether I am a Tanzanian?”

 

Long distances

The 17-year-old Shedrack said his poor English might have been caused by lack of concentration due to the difficult learning environment surrounding him and most of his colleagues who walk long distances to and from school where they spend almost the whole day without eating anything.

During my survey I could not meet parents because most of them were staying in remote rural areas where transport was a headache. I only managed to meet one parent who identified himself as Ramadhan Selemani Mrutu.

Mrutu thanked the government for building schools to accommodate their children despite the fact that most of the schools lacked learning facilities.

“Half a loaf is better than nothing,” said the parent whose 14-year-old daughter, Asha, had joined Kwakoko Secondary School.