Fifteen-year-old Hosiana Ngonyani feels that Tanzanian children are being left behind by the kind of education they are receiving. She says adults have mortgaged tomorrow for the revelry of today.
“These are my feelings when I consider how the critical shortage of science teachers at our school affects my future career,” says the Form II student of Nasuri Secondary School in Namtumbo district, Ruvuma region.
“Since my primary school days, I had dreamt of becoming a medical doctor. To realise that dream I needed to study science subjects.
But with the prevailing shortage of science teachers, I’ll never make something of myself,” the stoutly-built student told journalists conducting research on the achievement and challenges facing the newly-established ward secondary in the country.
The survey was sponsored by the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) and was carried out in January this year in nine ward secondary schools in Namtumbo district. This study laid bare the fact that even government officials, parents and teachers cry over the shortage of teachers, notably those of science subjects.
“We’re forced to carry a heavy workload of teaching many subjects in view of the current shortage of teachers. It’s also sad to note that our students are not taught biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics since we don’t have teachers trained in those subjects,” said Michael Kabogo, the academic master of Narwi Secondary School.
Narwi Secondary School is one of the 24 government-run schools in Namtumbo district badly hit by a serious shortage of science teachers compared to those owned by private institutions.
Bernard Lucas Mpwaga, headmaster of Mgombasi Secondary School, put the shortage of teachers in the perspective: “The future of churning out scientists from our school is bleak as we grapple with an acute shortage of science teachers. Even if we had science teachers where are the laboratories to train our would-be student scientists?”
He added: “A terrible bug has attacked our educational system, thus making it less potent as it was in the glorious past. Those who had the privilege of receiving quality education in those days appear to be making louder noise and wishing if it were possible to go back to the Tanzania of yesteryears.”
His statement is supported by Baraka Kapinga, the deputy headmaster of Nasuri Secondary School.
“Nowadays the phrase “shortage of teachers” and its accompanying song of “falling standard of education” have become clichés since it is difficult to trace the decadence in the sector to the threshold of anyone, thus making it difficult to identify the real empire wreckers,” Kapinga told the TAMWA researchers.
A leading education advocate in Namtumbo district, Frank Mikata, who is the secretary of Imani Group of the Roman Catholic Church, said concerted efforts are needed from education stakeholders to solve the shortage of teachers and other problems crippling the development of the sector.
“The answer to the problem of the education sector lies in a strong political action on behalf of public education. Strong political action does not require that education advocates and activists should enlist in partisan politics and contest election as councilors and legislators,” he said.
“In spite of the many policy initiatives by government, education has no political champion. And until we have the champion who makes education his or her own agenda, our children will continue to drink from the dry cisterns of yesterday,” Mikata told the researchers authoritatively.
Facts and figures from the Namtumbo district education office show that a total of 75 science teachers are currently needed to satisfy the demand of the 24 government secondary schools. Currently the district has 35 science teachers.
“The long-term solution to this problem (shortage of science teachers) is to encourage more and more students to study science subjects as we try to build a solid foundation for those interested to become scientists,” said Lydia Herbert, the Namtumbo District Secondary School Academic Officer.
Another strategy which Ruvuma regional authorities have crafted is the establishment of the Mbinga Training Centre for science teachers.
Courses being studied at the centre enable the trainees to teach science subjects without the use of such gadgets as test tubes or Bunsen burners just to name a few.
“We hope by doing so we can minimise the alarming shortage of science teachers in the not-so-distant future,” Herbert said.
Paulina Mkonongo, the Ruvuma Regional Education Officer, said the future for science teachers is bright in her region. “Our thrust in future will be employ more science teachers and cut the figure of those employed to teach arts subjects,” she said.
Ruvuma Regional Commissioner Said Thabit Mwambungu told the TAMWA researchers that his region would make every effort to improve the learning environment to enable every child to get education as his or her basic right.
“The challenge before us is to have more teachers, especially of science subjects, as a way of reinvigorating our education sector to match with the demands of this supersonic age,” he said.
The councilor of Luchili ward in Namtumbo district, Zakaria Chepa Kutosha, said what is required is that the leaders must commit themselves to bold actions to redeem the education sector through recognising the place of teachers.
“Just think for a second what the world would be without teachers. As the images rush through your mind, think again about the treatment they get from us individually, and from their employers, especially governments,” Kutosha said.
“The sustenance of education this far,” he said “has been based on the dedication of the teachers, who still relish seeing their efforts turning young men and women into the country’s leaders.”
“Special attention needs to be given to attracting younger people to teaching. At all levels, they are not ready to subject themselves to a life of penury, which is what teaching has become over the years. Very few enduring improvements can be made on the future of this society if we continue with the minimal investments we make in the welfare of the teachers.”
Seventy-year-old Yassin Reha, a resident of Namtumbo, says there is the need for a supportive framework to encourage improvement in the teachers' welfare.
"I lived in the colonial era and saw how teachers were respected in our society. They were the light of the village. Today, however, teachers work in a hostile environment lacking housing and witnessing delays in payment of their salaries. This is why some of them refuse to go rural areas where they can face hell," he said.
“There is also need to set up good monitoring teams to ensure that schools never forget that teachers are important instruments in a nation’s development,” he added.
Another Namtumbo town resident irked by the deteriorating education sector is Abdallah Rashid. He said to give the nation quality education, government, teachers, parents and students have their respective roles to play.
"The crocodile tears that the nation is shedding over the poor performances of the students in terminal public examinations is uncalled for because the decay that has enveloped the nation’s education sector did not come suddenly." he said.
"Just like a caterpillar gradually eats up leaves, the devourer of our educational system started eating it up under our nostrils, then nobody cared. It is the total destruction of the system that has brought the abysmal failure to the nation’s threshold."