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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