Mkenda opens up about looming changes in the education sector

Minister for Education, Science and Technology, Prof Adolf Mkenda (right) speaking during a special interview with journalists from Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) in Dodoma recently.

What you need to know:

  • Tanzania’s education sector is to undergo sweeping changes as the government seeks to completely transform the sector in line with international standards and aspirations of President Samia Suluhu Hassan. In this interview with The Citizen’s Jacob Mosenda, the Minister for Education, Science, and Technology, Prof Adolf Mkenda, expounds.

Question: The winds of change are sweeping through the education system in Tanzania, signalling major changes in the structure, curriculum, teaching methodologies, and policies. What is currently going on in this process?

Answer: These changes, as outlined in the 2014 Education and Training Policy, 2023 edition, are now on the cusp of realisation.

The draft of the 2014 Education and Training Policy, 2023 edition has already been completed and is now in the decision-making process. The pivotal moment will arrive when the cabinet convenes to seek presidential approval.

This meticulous approach was necessitated by past experiences where policies remained largely unimplemented, in particular, the 1982 Jackson Makweta commission’s report and the 2014 Education Policy exhibited numerous unfulfilled promises. The ministry chose to revisit and enhance the existing policy, a process that is now accessible to the public through the ministry’s website.

Beyond policy, the curriculum has also undergone substantial transformation, with draft versions now available online. While the curriculum typically bypasses the cabinet, the forthcoming changes reflect the evolving education system outlined in the policy. I am very optimistic about the imminent decision that will propel these educational reforms into action.

One of the central concerns surrounding these reforms is the swiftness with which they have been developed since President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s announcement of the desire for change. Technically, was that time enough, especially considering that changes require research, experience and other expertise?

The structured implementation timeline is designed to ensure the reforms are introduced in a controlled manner. We have an implementation calendar that will be followed. The notion of abrupt and hectic changes is incorrect. We expect full implementation of this by 2030.

However, some aspects such as reintroducing vocational education in technical engineering, sports, and agriculture may kickstart as early as 2023. These preparatory efforts are already underway, awaiting the official announcement after the policy’s approval.

Among the prominent changes is the extension of compulsory education from seven to 10 years, with six years dedicated to basic education. Additionally, the introduction of two streams for students from form one to form four, encompassing vocational training and general education, will provide diverse educational pathways.

These changes aim to align Tanzanian education with global standards, ensuring graduates are better equipped for the modern workforce.

A notable aspect of the education reform debate revolves around language. The initial expectation was for a single language of instruction, either Kiswahili or English, to prevail across all levels. However, the draft policy presents both languages as viable options, a decision that has triggered considerable discussion. Why did the committees insist on coming up with both languages in the draft?

We believed that this question might have hindered the discussion because in this policy change process we involved a very large number of participants.

While the policy acknowledges that primary education, up to the seventh grade, will predominantly use Kiswahili, with English being taught as a subject, flexibility is introduced.

The policy accommodates schools that wish to adopt English as the medium of instruction for all subjects except Kiswahili, thus creating “English Medium” institutions. The new policy maintains the status quo for early education until primary school.

Moreover, it permits capable schools with skilful teachers to introduce subjects like French, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish for interested students.

The policy also opens the door to the possibility of secondary schools adopting Kiswahili as the medium of instruction, provided they meet the necessary criteria. This inclusive approach seeks to strike a balance between preserving Kiswahili and equipping Tanzanians to communicate effectively in a global context.

In the midst of these educational reforms, the critical role of teachers often goes unnoticed. What is the strategy to involve teachers in these expected transformations?

We acknowledge the significance of teacher involvement and that’s why the ministry’s strategy is to ensure their active participation and professional development. The reform strategy does not need to be rushed, thus, the importance of training and re-training teachers. The proposed policy introduces a rigorous process for individuals aspiring to become teachers. Beyond obtaining a certificate, prospective educators will be required to pass a specialised exam to validate their teaching prowess.

We will hire you as a new teacher because you are proven. Our focus will be on the dire need for quality and competence in the teaching profession. This approach mirrors other professional fields where aspiring professionals undergo additional examinations, as seen in the legal sector and accountant.

We also recognise the surplus of teacher graduates, and our aim is to select the best candidates for available positions. This approach ensures that the nation’s children are educated by the most qualified individuals.

I would liken this move with the process of choosing a pilot for a flight, where passengers do not inquire about the pilot’s nationality but instead expect competence. Similarly, Tanzanians should expect well-qualified teachers in every school.

In addition, to address the current gap in teacher availability, the ministry has established guidelines for employing volunteer teachers, offering a potential solution to this pressing issue. These guidelines facilitate the utilisation of unemployed teachers while ensuring they receive fair compensation for their contributions.

A recurrent concern in the education landscape is the proliferation of academic programmes offered by colleges and universities. Tanzania has witnessed a steady increase in the number of programmes, with the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU) reporting up to 800 programmes in 2023. As a ministry, how do you manage this influx of programmes amidst the unemployment crisis?

The rise in programme offerings should not be viewed inherently as a problem. Education serves various purposes, from personal enrichment to economic and social development. Therefore, programme diversity is essential to accommodate the multifaceted needs of the populace. All programmes are important if there are people who apply to study them.

Universities enjoy a substantial degree of autonomy in programme selection, guided by their respective senates. The role of the ministry and TCU is to ensure that criteria, such as the availability of qualified lecturers and necessary resources, are met. Furthermore, each institution is mandated to conduct Tracer Studies to track the progress and employment status of their graduates.

However, the ministry is encouraging institutions to focus on practical skills within the programmes they offer, aligning education with employability.

I envision an education sector where vocational education thrives, supplementing general education. Institutions like the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) serves as a model. We are aware of the importance of vocational degrees in the evolving job market.