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Mwalimu Nyerere on education: `The Power of Teachers`

22nd October 2012
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Lack of motivation leads to silent strikes like absenteeism. (File photo)

On 14th October, 2012, Tanzanians in the country and abroad commemorated Nyerere Day, which is a public holiday, set aside in order to find time to celebrate the life of the first President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. A number of symposiums, workshops, public displays and many more were organised worldwide.

In this column, I present an abridged version of an article titled “Mwalimu and the State of Education” written by Chambi Chachage, which appeared in the book named “Nyerere”. The original version appears in the website: http://fahamubooks.org/book. This abridged version has obtained written permission from both the original writer and the publisher.

There will be three articles based on Nyerere’s speeches on ‘The Power of Teachers’, ‘A Great Urge for Education’ and ‘Education for Service and not for Selfishness’ that he delivered in 1966, 1954 and 1999 respectively. Today’s article will focus on ‘The Power of Teachers’.

In his book on ‘Education and Development’ in Africa, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere commented that “Yet Primary Education for all, at least in Africa, requires full commitment from the State”. If there is one theme that was so dear to Julius K. Nyerere then it is education. He thought about it. He spoke about it. He even wrote about it. No wonder he is called Mwalimu, ‘The Teacher’.

A two volumes collection entitled Nyerere on Education published by HakiElimu, E & D Limited and the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation in 2004 and 2006 respectively reveals that about 35 essays and speeches on the theme are attributed to his name. This article is a critical review of the thoughts and practices of Mwalimu on this theme of Elimu in relation to the current state of education in Tanzania.

Julius K. Nyerere was a teacher by profession. He earned a diploma in education in 1945 at the then Mekerere University College in Uganda. Probably like many teachers today his choice of this career was an afterthought.

The teachers of our times would surely relate to his experience of declining “the offer to teach at Tabora Government School” upon his graduation and choosing instead “to teach Biology and History at St Mary’s, a new Catholic secondary school in Tabora” (Shepperson’s Perspective in Molony 2000: 7). By the time he left to pursue further studies at Edinburgh University in Scotland Mwalimu was politically conscious. However, as William E. Smith (1973) and John C. Hatch (1976) document, he is on record for claiming that his self-evolved ideas of politics were formed completely at the latter university were his strongest subject was philosophy.

While at Edinburgh he became more acquainted with the philosophical works associated with social democratic liberalism. Of particular interest to him were the treaties of the father of Utilitarianism and a philosopher of education, John Stuart Mill, whom he admired a lot. However, he was to thus admit later after Uhuru: “I was concerned about education; the work of Booker T Washington resonated with me” (Nyerere Quoted in Ikaweba Bunting 1999).

When he came back to the then Tanganyika in 1952 he joined St Francis’ College in Pugu as a teacher of history. Educators who were recently debating about a quest to compel them not to be involved in politics would relate to Mwalimu’s experience of having to quit this then relatively lucrative job shortly afterwards. He had to resign from the teaching post so as to be a politician.

Having personally experienced the perils and pleasures of teaching, Mwalimu was always concerned about the plights and prospects of teachers. In his review of Nyerere’s 1966 remarks at Morogoro Teachers College, Jenerali Ulimwengu (2004) notes how Mwalimu “is at pains to dispel the popular perception of teachers as a powerless group”. Sadly, this perception persists today. Mwalimu was correct in calling it “one of the biggest fallacies of our society. For teachers can make or ruin our society. As a group they have power which is second to none. It is not the power of a man with a gun; it is not a power which can be seen by a fool” (Nyerere 1968a: 228).

The teachers’ threats to strike and the open strikes that hit Tanzania in late 2008 give a glimpse of this power. But there are those ‘silent strikes’ that go on each and every day. These involve deliberate absenteeism, lack of teaching motivation, being overwhelmed with the workload and so forth.

It is not surprising then that some teachers interviewed in HakiElimu’s (2004) study on The Living and Working Conditions of Teachers in Tanzania were nostalgic about the times of Mwalimu. To them those were the days when teachers “were respected a lot” and the “salary you got was enough to live a decent life.” Of course some things have improved after the multi-dimensional crisis that faced the education sector during the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that were introduced in the 1980s. As Rakesh Rajani (2003) optimistically observed in the wake of the Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP), the announcement of PEDP brought about real hope and change which included the recruitment of about 7,000 teachers.

PEDP aimed ‘to recruit adequate number of new teachers’; ‘establish a teacher-to-pupil ratio that effectively accommodate enrolment increases’; ‘ensure equitable and gender-balanced distribution of trained teachers’; and ‘improve the use of existing teachers.’ To that end the plan made “provisions for teacher training and upgrading” as well as “strengthening the skills of existing teachers” (Rajani 2003: 5). But not everything went according to plan. For instance, HakiElimu’s (2005) Three Years of PEDP Implementation: Key Findings from Government Reviews revealed that 1,064 more than the targeted numbers of teachers were recruited. However, this report also revealed that the teacher-to-pupil ratio had increased from 1:46 to 1:59 indicating that the PEDP targets for teacher recruitment were underestimated. The consolidated review also revealed that the distribution of training teachers within regions and districts remained problematic as teachers were unwilling to be posted in remote areas. Its update, HakiElimu’s (2007) What has been Achieved in Primary Education? Key Findings from Government Reviews, found out recruitment does not necessarily translate into teachers in classrooms since out of the 10, 510 teachers that were deployed to schools in 2006 only 7,271 reported.

The situation by the end of 2009 had not improved significantly. For instance, on the basis of official sources such as the latest Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania (BEST) and Poverty and Human Development Reports (PHDR), HakiElimu & IDASA (2009) noted that the teacher-pupil ratio deteriorated as it moved from 1:53 in 2002 to 57:1 during the first year of PEDP. By the year PEDP I ended, however, the rate improved slightly to 1:52. This, the joint study revealed, could partly be attributed to the massive campaign of fast tracking the training of school leavers and recruiting them as teachers.

These teachers are sometimes referred to pejoratively as ‘Yebo Yebo’ or ‘Vodafasta’, a quick Vodacom network commercial product, to stress their lack of prerequisite qualifications, proper training and requisite skills. Such derogative perceptions and degraded plans are the hallmark of what Mwalimu was referring to as one of the biggest fallacy of our society. As the study further noted, in 2007 the ratio deteriorated again to its 2002 figure, i.e. 1:53, prompting the PHDR2007 to realistically admit that “it is unlikely that the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty’s (MKUKUTA) target of 1:45 by 2010 will be reached” (URT 2007: 27). Predictably, according to BEST2009, the ratio is 1:54 for both 2008 and 2009, a far cry from the 2010 target.

The Primary Leavers Examination Results (PSLE) for 2009 also gives us a glimpse of the state of education. More than 50 percent of the students who sat for the exam failed. The Minister responsible for Education was quoted by the media attributing this poor performance to mass failures in Mathematics and English. 20.96 percent of the students passed the former whilst over 35.44 percent passed the latter. Tellingly the Minister thus said: “We are trying to address these problems by training teachers in the two subjects and also improving the curriculum so that we can get more competent teachers for the two subjects” (The Citizen 11 December 2009: 17).

It is quite clear that we don’t really hearken when “Mwalimu decries the fact that teachers are usually underestimated and accorded less social recognition than they deserve” (Ulimwengu 2004: 4). We haven’t really made sense of what he means when he “points to the tendency to ignore teachers and explains that this is so because teachers, unlike civil servants, do not wield obvious power” (Ibid). If we really understood him in that regard then we wouldn’t have a situation such as the one documented by HakiElimu & IDASA (2009) on the reasons given by Ludewa’s District Education Officer in Iringa region on why Masimavalafu Primary School tended to come last in PSLE, that is, because for a long time it had one teacher. We would not have a situation whereby parents in many areas of our country have to volunteer hiring temporary teachers because those deployed by the government do not report to work or opt for other career opportunities as “their living standards are at low levels and many are not attracted to become teachers” (HakiElimu 2004: 13). By doing so we are embracing that biggest fallacy of our society even though “the truth is that it is teachers, more than any other single group of people…who shape the ideas and aspirations of the nation” (Nyerere 1968a: 226).

Mwalimu Nyerere’s legacy is tied to the history/herstory of the education sector in Tanzania. His regime produced positive as well as negative results in the education realm. However, I do not endorse the assessment that his policy on education was a total failure that neo-liberal revisionists, nay, a historical critics, presents to counter our nationalist history as they attempt to erase what we achieved from our consciousness.

 

Masozi Nyirenda is a Specialist in Education Management, Planning, Economics of Education and Policy Studies; he can be reached through +255754304181 or masozi.nyirenda@gmail.com

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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