This is also true for Tanzania. Over the years we have witnessed a constant proliferation of the education sector’s budget apportioning.
With an average of about 17% of the total budget being channeled towards the education sector, over the past ten years, the sector’s budget has increased in real terms from 669.5 billion in the 2005/06 financial year to 3.1 trillion in the 2014/15 financial year.
Despite this constant increase in the budget, which brought forth massive increase in student enrolment at all levels of education, quality of education has been deteriorating.
For example, the official Government Basic Education Statistics data indicates a steady decline in pass rates in the Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations from 89.3% (sum of division I, II and III is 33.6% while division IV is 55.7%) in 2005 to 43.1% (sum of division I, II and III is 9.6% while division IV is 33.5%) in 2012.
The Primary School Leaving Examinations pass rates dropped from 61.8% in 2005 to 30.7% in 2012.
The Uwezo learning assessments conducted over the years also indicate that children fail to pick essential numeracy and reading skills in primary school.
The 2014 Uwezo assessment, for example, tested grade 3 students with grade 2 level materials and found out that only 45% could read a simple Kiswahili story, only 19% could read a simple English story and 31% could perform simple arithmetic problems.
When a similar test was administered to grade 7 students only 80% could read the same Kiswahili story, 56% could read English story and 70% could solve the arithmetic problems of grade 2 level.
This is the challenge that Magufuli’s government has inherited from the previous governments and that he needs to deal with.
Nevertheless, Magufuli’s administration does not seem to deviate from previous governments’ obsession within creasing enrolment at the expense of quality.
While the much touted president’s policy to abolish school fees and all other associated contributions has been widely commended by the public, it has not been accompanied by an equal emphasis on improving quality.
A strong desire to draw a road map towards attaining inclusive and equitable education and in promoting learning for all will only remain rhetoric without a firm desire and strategy to overhaul the school system so that it is geared towards promoting learning.
It should be noted that free education is not a new policy in Tanzania. In 2002, the Government introduced the Primary Education Development Program (PEDP), which among other objectives, aimed at increasing enrolment through the abolition of school fees.
Instead, the government introduced capitation grants (CG) set at TZS 10,000 per schooling child quarterly. Nevertheless, the implementation was poor.
For example, according to Sauti za Wananchi survey conducted in April 2013, 34% of primary schools did not received any CG by April 2013 and the average receipt in 2013 was around TZS 2,094.
There is therefore a lesson to Magufuli’s administration regarding the management of capitation grants. The administration of capitation grants to schools needs a close monitoring.
More importantly, as observed above, capitation grant alone will not guarantee quality learning in schools. Other interventions relating to nutrition, teacher and student attendance, curriculum relevance and effectiveness, quality of service delivery in schools are but a few ingredients that collectively constitute an important menu for improving learning outcomes.
The question of “why are our children not learning” is an enigma that Magufuli’s government needs to accord it with needful attention sooner than later.
It should be noted that increasing learning outcomes cannot be accelerated by a standalone intervention. It requires time before outputs can effectively be assessed and a scorecard accorded. This may not be a politically appealing initiative to pursue but it is the fundamental component in education.
As we applaud the bold decision of the new government to implement the free education policy, the education puzzle remains: what strategies does Magufuli’s administration have that will boost the quality of education?
*Glory Blasio Emmanuel is Assistant Programme Officer at Twaweza. Opinions expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her organization.