There is no doubt that one of the issues which mostly preoccupied the just ended parliamentary session is the ever controversial question of Tanzania’s education status in recent years. Even if the debate on this theme produced more heat than light, probably from now onwards most of us will demand more concrete steps to be taken to improve the education sector.
This round of controversy started with a private motion by legislator James Mbatia, demanding that a parliamentary special committee be set up to look into the poorly performing vital sector, and make recommendations to improve educational standards at different levels in the interests of those receiving sub-standard education and the nation as a whole.
What apparently looked like a straightforward positive proposal resulted into unexpected complications, when all signs thereafter clearly indicated that the government did not accept the idea of being probed on this matter.
The legislator had suggested that the proposed parliamentary committee should focus on the effectiveness of the country’s education policy, the relevance of primary and secondary schools curricula, and procedures of approving teaching and learning materials for our schools, among other things.
The above mentioned problematic areas in our education system are not new, as they are raised every year whenever the Minister of Education presents his/her Ministry’s budget speech in parliament. It is a common ritual for MPs to talk at length and emotionally on the perennial problems in the education sector, including its being poorly managed. Some even threaten to block the Ministry’s budget proposals, only to approve them overwhelmingly during voting time!
Even in this development under discussion, we witnessed how several MPs stood up and enumerated all sorts of setbacks and challenges which cripple the education system, to the extent that thousands of our children who go through it are simply that half baked, to put it mildly, and can’t enjoy the benefits of having gone to school. You have even those who describe the entire situation as a national disaster.
Yet even under such a frightening scenario, attempts by the government to avoid being put to task by the state pillar entitled to play a watchdog role were openly made.
The Minister in charge of the education and training portfolio categorically took a firm stand against parliamentary intervention on the grounds that the issues raised by the legislator were already being addressed in the anticipated new education policy.
Much as we may give the Minister the benefit of the doubt in regard to what he says in defense of the government, yet there is a temptation to raise a few questions. What is the deadline for completing the new education policy and making it operational? This question is important mainly because the issue at stake is too urgent to be handled in the business- as- usual manner.
Some observers would also like to know the extent to which stakeholders are being involved in this crucial state project, as their role can not and should not be underestimated.
Noted as well is the fact that as the process of writing a new constitution is in progress, many suggestions on how the mother law should address chronic educational problems have been voiced, and some are likely to be accommodated. The proposed constitution is expected to be ready by the end of 2014 and be implemented with effect from 2015, if endorsed.
How does the government relate its anticipated new education policy to the constitutional development in the country? Is the idea being entertained to endorse a new education policy and revise it as soon as the new constitution is passed, in case what the constitution demands in the education sector is not accommodated in the policy?
At a time of writing this column, the fate of legislator Mbatia’s motion on forming a parliamentary committee to look into the education sector was not yet known, although private motions tabled mainly by opposition parliamentarians were in danger of being sidelined, thanks to the politicisation of parliamentary business, now threatening the smooth functioning and integrity of the house. In the mean time, one is tempted to support those who suggest that initiatives to save the education sector should be channeled through the new constitution.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant(firstname.lastname@example.org)