For a country that is seeking to put its development on a high gear, as Tanzania does, the issue of education takes centre stage.
It is about the challenge of raising resources to deliver more enlightened and skilled manpower capable of driving the development agenda faster.
The government using its own and private resources, has made great strides here, seeing the sector grow at primary, secondary and the tertiary levels.
The country now boasts numerous universities and colleges, boosting the output of high level manpower available to help run the economy.
Among such institutions, which many Tanzanians feel proud of today is the Open University of Tanzania (OUT).
In establishing the institution in 1992, the government said the aim was to provide affordable, quality education through various distance-learning media.
The university was a pioneer in affording learners the flexibility of studying for higher education from any place in the country, instead of having to set up camp in Dar es Salaam or Morogoro (in those days) at costs not easily affordable by individuals.
Indeed under the new arrangement, not only have the students been able to keep working, but also pay for tuition and afford to stay close to their families.
Starting with a handful of those who were already aware of the benefits of studying under such a system, the university 20 years on boasts enrolment of approximately 22,000 undergraduate students, with 4,164 postgraduate students, the majority of whom are engaged in Masters programmes.
Its mode of delivery of the programmes has included print media, telecasting, postal communication, and now increasingly, thanks to funding and technical support from Sweden, via e-learning and other computer-based technologies.
From its headquarters in Dar es Salaam, OUT has established a total of 27 regional centres throughout the country (including Zanzibar), but significantly in towns close to Tanzania’s international borders, with the aim of drawing students from neighbouring countries.
Each regional centre provides facilities for seminars, face-to-face contact programmes, mini-libraries, PC labs and student support.
It has proved unfounded, the fears that the off-campus, own-supervision arrangement would compromise the quality of the programmes.
Vice Chancellor Prof Tolly Mbwette explains: “Distance education mode of study permits you to study where you live and work. This means that, while you study you can at the same time also satisfy any of the needs of your profession or employer, the family and the community.
It is important to say that in order to study successfully, you will have to manage your time effectively.”
He stresses that students studying at OUT are qualified just like any of their colleagues from other Universities, adding: “There is no reason for one to regard them as second class students as some uninformed people erroneously think at times. The main reason for this is mainly the ignorance of the general public of the thoroughness of the Open and Distance Learning mode of delivery including its assessment system,” he says.
We could not agree more with the chief of this important national academic institution. For over the last 20 years it has contributed to the stock of qualified people who are contributing immensely to the development of our country alongside their colleagues from the other tertiary institutions.