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Education in Tanzania – what role for citizens?




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Education in Tanzania – what role for citizens?



Education has been arguably the most consistently supported and discussed development issue in Tanzania’s nearly six decades of independence. Early on, Tanzania’s founding father Mwalimu Nyerere linked education to development, arguing that education is not only a way to escape poverty, but a way of fighting it. The truth in this statement struck me when I recently visited schools in Mbeya urban and Misungwi districts. Classrooms were overflowing with enthusiastic learners. However, an array of challenges were present behind this promising image.

Learning challenges

Tanzania’s enrolment ratios are impressive, however, Uwezo’s report continues to indicate that many children attend school with little learning. The 2014 Uwezo report found that just 19% of students in grade 3 were able to read English at a grade 2 level. Furthermore, fewer than 68% of students who took the grade 7 exams in 2015 passed.

Our experience in assessing children in Tanzania continues to reveal the many struggles students face in learning how to read and comprehend in both Kiswahili and English. Seemingly, much emphasis is still put on the schooling inputs, with little attention to how these inputs translate to learning outcomes. As I walked out of that school on 13 October 2015 in rural Misungwi, I heard this vehement announcement on the radio: ‘Dr. Magufuli’s government to make education free in Tanzania’. True to his word, at the official opening of the Eleventh Parliament, President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli assured parents with children in primary and secondary school that they would not be asked to pay any contributions to education come January 2016. So, what did the citizens think about this education promise, and about education generally?


A new dawn?

In February 2016, Twaweza published a policy brief titled ‘A new dawn? Citizens’ views on new developments in education’, based on the Sauti za Wananchi survey conducted in January 2016. This report highlights five main findings:

1. Citizens are optimistic about the promise of free education

An overwhelming 97% of the citizens were aware of President Magufuli’s announcement that secondary education would be fee free from January 2016, as per the new policy and the party’s manifesto commitment. Furthermore, 88% of the citizens trusted that this promise would be implemented on schedule.

2. About 9 out of 10 (89%) parents contribute financially to public education

Parental contributions, or “michango,” have become a feature of the education system since the expansion of Universal Primary Education. Nine out of 10 parents (89%) reported contributing money to public schools. When parents were asked how much they contributed, 80% reported paying TZS 50,000 or less annually, while 8% reported paying over TZS 100,000. Most of these charges were for school security (66%), tests (57%) and desks (34%).

3. Half of citizens believe parental contributions are not used as intended

Despite the fact that so many parents made these extra contributions, 49% of citizens believed that this money was not used as intended. Urban citizens were more sceptical, with 57% stating that contributions were not used as intended, compared to 44% of rural citizens. In addition, 58% of all citizens believed that these contributions were not authorized by the government and 89% believed that public school teachers collected this money as a source of extra income.

4. Citizens connect learning outcomes to teacher effort

Citizens were asked what they thought drives grade 7 results in their community (either good or bad). Half of the citizens attributed the results to teacher effort (or lack thereof), while only 7% mentioned challenges related to either parents or students. Interestingly, a substantial 1 in 3 of citizens (29%) did not know what drives learning outcomes at the end of primary schooling.

5. Eight (8) out of 10 citizens believe that teachers are proud of their profession but do not like their jobs.

More than 9 out of 10 citizens (93%) believed that teaching was the profession that lays the foundation for the nation. However, although 79% of citizens believed that teachers were proud of what they do, 80% stated that teachers do not like their job and only do it for financial gain.


Three questions for the future

First, citizens overwhelmingly embrace the policy of fee-free education, with the hope that this would lessen the burden of private contributions by households. However, by looking at the amount of the capitation grant disbursed to schools, against the key charges on education (security, tests, and desks), can this hope of citizens be met, and can Magufuli really fulfil this promise?

Secondly, citizens have hope in the government, but express much distrust on their schools. Considering that the schools are run by the same government, how possible is it that Magufuli’s government can impose and sustain accountability on the school system?

Third, despite Uwezo’s constant call to focus on learning outcomes, there seems to be little understanding on what quality education is all about, and what drives learning outcomes. Considering the role that parents must play to improve learning in Tanzania, how possible is it that they can fulfil it if the concept of how to improve learning remains elusive?


About the authors

John Mugo is the Director of Data and Voice at Twaweza East Africa, working from the Nairobi office. He heads the Uwezo and Sauti za Wananchi surveys in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. He holds a PhD in education from the Leibniz University of Hanover, Germany. Sana Jaffer is a Research Analyst and Writer for the Sauti za Wananchi based in Dar es salaam. She received her BA in Economics from Yale University (USA) and has a Master's Degree in Development Economics from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. 

Contributed by : John Mugo - Sana Jaffer