Why time for open education, open textbooks has come

Monday April 8 2019


Anywhere in Africa, and the world today, only a few lucky university students graduating every year are absorbed in government employment. The rest have to work in the established private sector or look for self-employment ventures.

There was a time in the pre and post-independence days, across the continent, almost majority of the university students were employed in the government sector or the established private sector. By then, graduates were so few unlike today!

Today, with the huge populations, and a very big number of university students– it’s not possible for the majority of them to be employed in the government sector. The private sector, which is supposed to create jobs, all across the continent, is not creating enough jobs. So, millions of African young men and women find themselves in micro/small enterprises for lack of choices.

It’s not only graduates; we have those who don’t go beyond primary school and others who end up at secondary school levels. Thus, entrepreneurship and business education is supposed to be a priority. In 2018, Prof Suleman Sumra, published a paper titled “Educating Tanzanian Children for the Globalised World of the 21st Century.” He claims that the school system in our country “is functioning as if it is still preparing youth for government employment”.

Although we need to prepare young people for government employment, but we must leave a huge room that only a small percentage can work as civil servants/in parastatals.

The majority will have to join the private sector, open business or be in agriculture at various points along the value chain. The good professor roots for the education for self-reliance noting that it’s “relevant today as it was 50 years ago,”


In accepting the reality of employment or lack of it- it’s necessary to think beyond the box. We must provide education that will enable the vast majority to enter the business sector, for their own good, and that of our motherland.

In today’s world, we can develop models of open knowledge that one can use freely, reuse or redistribute with no legal, social or technological restriction that our children can use, across nations. For example, Tanzania is an agriculture nation, open knowledge for developing more skills on this could have a huge impact.

The other day, my favourite daily, The Citizen newspaper, reported that, Tanzania Institute of Education has come up with an online library to give students in nursery, primary and secondary school access to textbooks.

The initiative, which is a public-private partnership, will enable schools even in remote areas, to access books in a low cost-- but I wish it were completely free for all students in Tanzania to access!

Good news, recently Ubongo Kids won Sh60 million in a global tech competition for education. Ubongo Kids has established itself as a leading edutainment provider that is making it easy for kids to learn/get new skills in easy way, both in Kiswahili and English. It uses national TVs across nations to reach many children. But what if their programs are used to enhance knowledge in all schools?

Our government is providing free education at primary and secondary levels. It’s time we embrace dtechnology more and adopt open education and open textbooks. No child should be denied knowledge just because s/he cannot afford a textbook. Companies like Ubongo Kids are able to translate such books into learning videos which is a game changer.

Lastly, I extend my kudos to Peter Tabichi, a Kenyan teacher who was recently crowned the best teacher in the world through the Global Teacher Prize 2019. He was the only African among the top ten finalists

The columnist is an assistant lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education.