TWAWEZA revealed a very graphical snap shot of the state of our education system; telling a story that has become as common place amongst Tanzanians as a folklore passed on one generation after another, but now with graphical details in typical TWAWEZA style.
This comes on the heels of form six results that saw Azania Secondary School, once a beckon of academic excellence, secure a place amongst the bottom ten performers and permanently cementing the dominance of private schools in the top echelons of academic performance in Tanzania.
As we convene yet again to commune over these findings, like many before that throw shade on our beleaguered education system, one cannot help but feel the irony in it all.
Most of us offering commentary on all this, including myself, are beneficiaries of a good-system-gone-bad and shamelessly commune time and again to go over results that often paint the same picture with no tangible resolve as if there were no consequences?
Most of us, commentators, have jobs so an interview to us is another cause to be thankful that we have made it as we watch so many who come before us who most likely won’t.
Most of us, commentators, now, only know public schools like Azania through the lens of such reports as our children are ‘safe’ in the time capsules called private schools that protect them (albeit in the short term) from the realities of a world we continue to fashion in their disfavor.
Like a virus that has found its way into our moral conscience, we have built a tolerance for a disease more corrosive than any other to the long term standing of our nation.
So every exam result season; every daunting research findings review session is followed with the same ill fated outpouring of grief and disappointment lined with traces of ridicule for results that are for most of us far enough removed from our individual reality to really matter but may be more significant to our collective good than we choose to believe.
What did Mwalimu know that we may have chosen to ignore 50years on?
One of Mwalimu’s earliest interventions in his quest to build this great nation was with the education system; nationalizing schools owned predominantly by religious bodies to allow, not only for wider access, but more probably and more importantly, for the government to have a stronger hand in informing the formative stages of its people. So schools were like manufacturing lines producing Tanzanians out of the varied peoples that colored our nation.
Using schooling systems in this way should not be viewed as the reserve of Ujamaa or socialism, as is always mistakenly assumed. From the United States of America to Sweden and communist China, any society of note invests significantly in public education, in particular, at the formative stages of its people’s development (primary and secondary level) as a critical part of the navigation of its social conscience.
I remember my father once telling me how his father, my grandfather, didn’t want him to pursue studies beyond standard four; preferring that he stay home and tend to cattle that would, at least, ensure him dowry upon coming of a marrying age. Clearly if left to our own methods, be it religious, tribal or otherwise achieving ONE Tanzania is almost as impossible as it is possible.
Mwalimu knew that the state of our Nation is heavily dependent on the state of our education.
Education, which is often associated with imparting knowledge and skills that are key to reinforcing the economics of the land, is a vital funnel for seeding critical values that make us not just a strong economy but more importantly a strong nation in a world that is becoming more pervasive and illusive as a result.
Can we entrust, then, the private sector (harboring private agendas often known only to the owners) even with this sensitive task of stewardship in building this nation’s fabric?
And yet we are surprised that even when our economy is growing strength on strength, the threads that hold our national identity together are growing looser and looser.
As if this were not enough to go on, when we hand our education system to private schools without sufficient investment in public education, we are also sending another alarming message – your liberation as a poor person has a price! How can we tell a family that is already impoverished by circumstance that their only hope to correct their fortunes through the lives of their children requires a hefty and often dollar pegged investment in education that they don’t have? Money should never be a pre-requisite for poor people to break through.
Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find children of ministers, permanent secretaries, directors, officers and office clerks all attending the same public school and getting the same opportunity to break through as a result. 50years later these same public schools serve only as a stark reminder of how divided our society is progressively becoming with only the extremely impoverished left to take their children to there.
In a country that claims to be predominantly poor, it fails to register, even in my usually quite imaginative mind, how expensive private sector education can or will solve anything on a national level, especially if it entails abandoning public sector education outright? If the USA can justly call itself the land of opportunities, it is primarily as a result of nurturing an education system that brings together most of the population irrespective of background or circumstance through one ‘melting pot’ called public schooling.
It is my hope that Prof. Ndalichako, Minister of Education, who in her initial stages as the custodian of our education system and nation’s future as a result, has demonstrated with passion and rigger her willingness to go where very few were willing to go before and revive the role of the public sector in education as a main stay (not by the way) will not wane in the face of a society that is cursed to know what it wants (and is willing to kick and shout loud for it) but either doesn’t know or isn’t willing to put in what it takes to make what they want a reality.