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Challenges with Language

It was a great honor meeting one of Tanzanian’s politicians, Basil Lema, who is currently running for Parliament via the opposition party. Having served as Chairman for the United Nations on behalf of Tanzania, and bringing attention to the importance of climate change, Basil was the perfect person to break down the history of the Tanzanian education system. Basil is a natural politician, charming and charismatic, with the ability to captivate you and teach lessons through storytelling, my conversation with him was both entertaining and informative.

Basil took the time to explain that Tanzania is a country of tribes, each tribe having its own language. When the Kilimanjaro region was colonized in the late 1800s through the 1960s, it was the first time the Tanzanian people were pulled together, making a language barrier inevitable. During colonization, the colonizes won over the people of Kilimanjaro through introducing religion, many people were pulled to the  Presbyterian and Catholic religions because of the principals of equality and forgiveness.  Prior to colonization, the people of Kilimanjaro followed their own Gods, those of the Earth. However, only men were able to worship the Earth Gods, and it wasn’t until the Presbyterian and Catholic religions came in that both men and women could sit together and worship equally. After religion, the colonizers brought in hospitals, providing successful treatments through western medicines. Lastly, came education. The colonizers wanted to train and educate the people of the Kilimanjaro region to be laborers in order to pull out the resources and natural minerals which makes Tanzania a very rich land. Thus, came forth an education system which taught Swahili to primary levels students and English to secondary students; making each student learn three language: the native tribal tongue, Swahili, and English.

Basil explained the education system much like two pyramids; one for government education and one for private education.  The concentration of attendees being the pre-primary and primary levels of education, and the second tier being secondary education, with university education at the top. Each next level from primary to secondary to university requires entrance exams. I asked Basil if the lack of students going into the next tier was due to the increase of fees for education at each level, or the lack of quality education that allows for students to do well on their exams. He said it was both. Although the fees are deterring, the largest program is the lack of a syllabus at the lower education levels and the lack of English being taught at a primary level. The students switch from all Swahili at the primary level to all English at the Secondary level, without education in between.

It will be interesting to see what Basil will bring to Parliament in August. He factually states that the opposition group will win this Fall, and I am excited to see him improve the current education system!

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Education

In 2002 the Tanzanian government declared free education for all children, however to this day education isn’t free. All students are required to make a contribution to pay for food, books, desks, supplies, etc. If you are unable to pay, the school harasses the family until the parents stop sending the kids to school. The annual ‘contribution’ for pre primary (3-7 years old) and primary education (7-14 years old) at government schools is 200,000 a year (about $100USD). Secondary education is about $400,000 shilling a year (about $200 USD). Outside of government schools, one finds private schools, which includes both what we think of as private schools, more expensive than public school, but it also includes schools for students that can’t afford public schools.

The school that I work at in Tanzania is called Best Hope, and although a private school, the school educates students for free, or if they can afford it, asks for an annual 120,000 shilling (about $60USD) contribution. This school provides education for orphaned children who are living with grandparents or aunts, and children from severely low income families. Several of the students don’t have shoes and only have one set of clothes.

In several cases, orphaned children who are in the orphanage system are better off due to the overwhelming contributions from international non -profits. The orphanage in Moshi is fully funded by a British non-profit organization. Where the gaps happen are with the children who by definition are orphaned but are living with extended family members. Several of these fill- in parents like grandparents, are unable to afford the costs of basic education for these children.

Best Hope is the only school in the area that provides education for free. That being said, the facility is minimal. Consisting of four classrooms, where 3-4 different education levels are placed in one class; the school hopes to expand and have one classroom per education level. Moreover, there is only one teacher at the school, turning to international volunteers to fill the gap. This works only if there are volunteers. My classroom contains students from the ages of 8-14 years old. I have turned to daily mathematics testing to distinguish the education level and to work on rebuilding their basic math foundation.

The issue I ran across is that teachers teach the material but don’t actually take the time to make sure the students understand it. Currently my younger ones are adding fractions, however they don’t know how to multiple, making adding fractions impossible. It wasn’t until I tested the students and showed the teacher that they had failed their multiplication exams that she was willing to go back and work on the basic foundation stuff and stop pushing adding fractions. The largest issue I have witnessed with the education system is a lack of a syllabus.

All primary school students are placed at levels based on age P1 through P6, however there are no exams for the students to take to ensure they understand the information at their level before going onto the next level. As long as the information has been taught, the student moves on. This results in several students failing the examination (usually their first exam) to get into Secondary school, ending their education at the age of 14.

I am currently working with the school’s Director to establish a syllabus and testing system; however, resources are also a limiting factor for the school. After three days at the school, I said enough was enough and offered to put in floors for my classroom (my weekend project), something that is greatly needed. I move between teaching math and English and cleaning up infected cuts on the kid’s feet because they don’t have shoes and the rocks on the floors often cut their feet. One cut was so bad that I had to drain the puss before cleaning and dressing the wound. This all being said, there is a way to help the school directly by donating the most basic supplies to the school.

Supplies needed:

Basic school supplies (pens and paper)

Books (primary level math, English, and science)

Toys for the kids to play with (I bought a soccer ball this week- one of two toys at the school now)

Clothes and shoes

First aid kits

All donations can be sent directly to the school:

The Best Hope Preparatory Center

C/O Emmanuel Aikael Mkya

P.O. Box 3060

Moshi, Tanzania

Thank you!!

All things have to be hand written, including examinations. My classroom at Best Hope (second picture).

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