The state of education was among the three issues that gave the new nation sleepless nights – the others being poverty and disease, but with education accorded the utmost priority.
Surely, education is the only way that would enable the new nation not only to stand up and sustain itself but also develop, or all talk about our having achieved independence would make little sense.
The priority was clear – by then, the Education ministry consumed more than 40 per cent of the entire government budget. Consider this: in 1964 the government abolished school fees for government-run secondary schools, largely because many students from poor families could not afford the amounts of money involved.
With that, secondary school education was free in the strict sense of the word, and this was later extended to university education.
Mwalimu Nyerere did not end there – his government nationalised some secondary schools run by religious organisation, officially so that the sons and daughters of Tanzanians heading poor families could also be enrolled there and receive education for free.
Looking back, few can say these were not the right steps – and they worked wonders. When the government then said education was a vehicle for development, it knew what it was saying and meant it.
The government also kept underscoring the need for quality education and, by and large, that is exactly it was – despite it being free.
For it’s not always true that the best things in life are only obtained at a cost. Huge numbers of Tanzanians, including many who were later to hold high posts in the government or other public and private institutions, will admit that they attained those positions through free education – from secondary upwards.
We are always mobilised to seek education for ourselves and our kith and kin, many suggesting that the future will only be a land of plenty and prosperity if one is armed with quality education – quality education.
Indeed, no one disputes that education is costly, but the alternative – ignorance – is also costly not only to the individuals concerned but more so to the nation. This is because, all things considered, it is the government that bears the foremost responsibility in seeing to it that the people get education.
But as decades went by, something started going wrong in the education sector – in particular the plummeting of standards, though there is no ‘official’ consensus here.
Could it be that subsequent administrations were overwhelmed by the growing population and the ever-rising growing school enrolments that outpaced the available resources?
It could well be so, but we must not forget that ours is a rich country blessed with many kinds of minerals. Fortunately, the government has now publicly sworn to see to it that the education sector rises again.
We have seen how it is refurbishing infrastructure in aged schools and putting up new ones, not to mention the ‘extended’ abolition of school fees and improvements in the welfare of teachers.
This definitely merits applause. At the same time, though, we strongly recommend that the government give consideration to two issues to enable the country’s education sector to flourish all the more and all the faster.
Firstly, it ought to explore the possibility of setting aside a certain percentage of proceeds from minerals specifically to go into boosting the education sector’s budget.
Secondly, it should enact a law requiring ministers, Members of Parliament and other highly placed government officials to enrol their children in government schools, which is common practice even in highly developed countries.
This way, our ministers and lawmakers will likely be forced to pay greater attention to the plight of our education. Talk of leading by example, right?