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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Education system: Check pendulum!

13th January 2012
Editorial cartoon

On matters of policy, it pays to be pragmatic. But only a faulty pendulum does not swing according to plan.

Anyone who has watched developments in the education sector in Tanzania closely and inquisitively enough, say, for the last two decades will have noticed quite a few ups and downs as well as cases of both good and poor judgment.

For instance, there has been a lot of “oscillation” among policy makers and most other stakeholders on how to handle schoolgirl pregnancies – whether to deal with the “victim”, the man or boy at the centre of it all, the respective parents or guardians and whoever else is assumed or presumed to be associated with the case, even remotely.

In most cases observed, it is the poor schoolgirl who ends up bearing the brunt of the sad development by being unceremoniously sent away from school sometimes at the most inconvenient of times while also being rejected and abandoned by her “partner” as well as parents or guardians, friends and acquaintances and part of the larger public. No wonder, some of the victims eventually make decisions most weird or atrocious.

There has similarly been a lot of forward and backward movement over things such as the age at which children should enrol for Standard One, how many years primary and secondary education should take, the quality of people to recruit as teachers, the combinations of subjects to be taught, and what the curriculum should contain, the nature of examinations and the weight that they ought to carry relative to continuous academic performance.

Additionally, the authorities have kept doing and undoing, if you will, in respect of the tuition and other fees charged by private schools in the country although there is near consensus that they are unreasonably high.

The consequences of this chronic reluctance in making appropriate decisions in good time are evident, and include cheating in examinations, cases of practically illiterate pupils passing secondary school entrance examinations with flying colours and of the scenario repeating itself in secondary schools.

There is also a contradiction with respect to the fact that teaching English from the very early stages of formal education has proven of little utility in that, while English is the medium of instruction of choice particularly in secondary schools, many students are not proficient enough in the language and end up doing poorly in the examinations.

Ironically, most school and college examination papers are in English and most questions call for essay-type answers – so it is clear what happens when in fact some students cannot construct even a single correct sentence in the language.

Resorting to multiple-choice questions in final and other graded examinations only makes matter worse as it is then those with magnetic memories, not those who have mastered what they were taught or what they learned on their own, that usually carry the day.

We could go on and on with the enumeration and elaboration. Of most importance, though, is that we need meaningful, relevant and appropriate education that will see us through this century and beyond. We need to remember that we are an integral part of a world setting characterised by cut-throat competition and where quality is the watchword.

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