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Need for effective strategies to curb challenges in country`s education sector

9th July 2012
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The education budget allocation is about 20percent, which is peanuts compared to the challenges in the sector. (File photo)

On Friday evening last week, I had the opportunity of being interviewed by an IBN TV journalist, Rahma Bajun on various issues concerning the education sector in the country. We talked about various concerns of many citizens on the sector’s development. Many people are of the opinion that there is a need to ensure our education strategies become a reality and not just mere political statements which will never be realized. I would like to present a few issues we discussed.

The major question is “how are we going to ensure there is robust education development in our country?”

The following are the concerns we discussed, which are also the concerns of many citizens and education stakeholders:

Understanding the challenges in the sector

The education sector in Tanzania is facing many challenges including inadequate resources, lack of teaching and learning facilities and inadequate infrastructure. Others are low enrolment rate at various levels of education, low transition rate, gender disparity and outdated curricula.

The overall national target set in 2005 by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, is to ensure provision of quality education at all levels by increasing the enrolment to 100% at Primary level and at least 50% of the primary school leavers to join Secondary education, 25% of ordinary secondary education to join advanced secondary, and 12.5% to join higher learning institutions by the year 2010.

The achievement in enrolment attained so far has triggered the need for even more facilities to match the increased enrolment. The education budget allocation is about 20percent, which is peanuts compared to the challenges in the sector, and 80percent depends on external support. How are we going to ensure that the budget is increased through internal sources of revenue, instead of depending on external aid?

Understand education is a tool for poverty alleviation

People need policy makers and decision makers in the education sector to understand that literacy is very crucial in poverty eradication. Education empowers people to become aware of their environment, the resources around them and how they can exploit them for their development. It helps them learn new skills and therefore make informed decisions about their lives.

The poorest and most vulnerable people need access to reliable information so that during difficult times, they can opt for the best survival strategy, which will enable them and their families to keep going even during times of extreme hardships. Professor Kingo Mchombu of the University of Namibia in his paper “Libraries, literacy and poverty reduction” comments that “a literate person can learn new skills and knowledge which is a crucial asset that can improve household income-generating capability and reduce vulnerability to shocks such as economic turndown, loss of employment or the illness of a wage-earning family member”.

Develop resource mobilisation skills and networks

In order to meet the above mentioned challenges, there is a need to ensure there is availability of resources for education development in the country. This calls for various education stakeholders (including government officials, members of parliament, councillors, civil societies etc) to develop resource mobilisation skills and networks that will support in their education development strategies.

Resource mobilisation is a necessary activity in both developing countries and the developed world for non profit organizations, political parties, religious institutions, etc, but fundraising for education is of utmost importance in order to foster education development. Traditionally, in Tanzania we have been doing fundraising for various occasions such as weddings, funerals, birthday parties, picnics to name just a few. However, we rarely fundraise for children to access education; contrary to the societies in Kenya whereby they have for decades been conducting Harambees in order to support education projects including paying school fees for some children in their societies to pursue various levels of education. It’s high time now that we give priority to education development.

Currently, heads of schools demand parents to make frequent contributions which have become nuisance. There is a need to equip school heads with alternative means of obtaining funds instead of squeezing parents with endless contributions.

Transport problem for students

Decision makers need to understand that inadequate and unreliable transport for students in various cities and towns in Tanzania has been one of the chronic problems which hinder their academic progress. It also causes some other social problems such as poor academic performance, teen pregnancies and other delinquencies such as students fighting with daladala conductors.

Students take many risks including getting punished when they are late, as well personal safety as they have to wake up very early and come home very late. This results in students reaching school while they are already stressed out. They study with divided attention as they are uncertain how and when they are going to reach home after school. Moreover, students lack adequate time and motivation for doing their homework and doing their personal academic revision.

Hunger hinders school attendance and performance

According to a World Food Program (WFP) report, “there are approximately 300 million chronically hungry children in the world. One hundred million of them do not attend school, and two thirds of those not attending school are girls. WFP’s school feeding formula is simple: food attracts hungry children to school. An education broadens their options, helping to lift them out of poverty,” reads the report in part.

Poor nutrition and health among schoolchildren contribute to the inefficiency of the educational system. Children with diminished cognitive abilities and sensory impairments naturally perform less well and are more likely to repeat grades and to drop out of school than children who are not impaired. They also enroll in school at a later age, if at all, and finish fewer years of schooling. The irregular school attendance of malnourished and unhealthy children is one of the key factors in poor performance.

Poor performance in examinations

Decision makers also need to understand that there is a persistent decline in Science, Mathematics and English subjects performance. This was termed as a major challenge facing the education sector in the last decade. Poor performance in the Form Four national examinations in the last two years reveals that most of the ward secondary schools do not have adequate teaching and learning resources including competent teachers. There is a need to take radical measures of ensuring that there is adequate investment in ward secondary schools to avoid such performance in future.

Lack of employment for graduates

The number of employment vacancies is still not enough to meet the emerging needs. This indicates the fact that our economy is still lagging behind as it does not stimulate on maximizing opportunities for employment. However, it should be understood that when the population grows, the whole economy (including the labour force, production, market) should also naturally grow, so the education resources and demands should match accordingly. The mismatch of this brings about the problem of unemployment to our young graduates.

Public-private partnerships

In education policy, public-private partnerships play an important role in enhancing the supply and the quality of human capital. The private sector has an obligation to participate and support education development through technical skills provision, financial support and actual implementation of the projects through its own resources. In order to flourish, the private (business) sector requires highly skilled employees. This calls for the political aspirants to ensure that they provide working strategies, ensure private sector is fully engaged in investing in education development in order to obtain human resources which will eventually boost the growth of the private sector and the economy in general.

Education for special groups

There is a growing concern on whether we care for education of people with disabilities. People feel that there have not been effective plans to ensure that students with disabilities are given adequate support to access quality education at all levels. Moreover, there is concern about girls who become pregnant whether they are given access to go back to school, as this has been talked for the past five years but nothing concrete has been done.

There are a number of pending issues in education sector which I could not mention and discuss here but I would recommend that the decision makers in the sector provide strategies to ensure that the education provided encourages the development in each citizen of three things: an enquiring mind; an ability to learn from what others do, and reject or adapt it to their own needs; and a basic confidence in their own position as a free and equal member of the society, who values others and is valued by them for what he/she does and not for what he/she obtains”.

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The writer, Masozi Nyirenda, is a Specialist in Education Planning, Management, Economics of Education and Policy Studies; he can be reached through 0754304181 or masozi.nyirenda@gmail.com

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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