We must address hiccups arising from free basic education provision.

16Jan 2016
The Guardian
We must address hiccups arising from free basic education provision.

The government programme to see all Tanzanian children accessing free basic education kicked off this week, but with some hiccups that should be resolved.

Editorial Cartoon.

According to media reports gathered from across the country, parents’ response to register their children this year was three-fold compared to previous years, thanks to implementation of President John Magufuli’s election campaign promise.

However, the reports also state that implementation of the programme has encountered some shortcomings, including failure by the government to disburse adequate funds to each school to cater for basic requirements.

Some school heads are reported to have presented matters to their councilors in search for help, but with little or no solution.

It should be taken into account that schools, just like any other institution, are required to pay for their basic requirements including water, electricity, security, maintenance, chalks and other teaching and learning materials.

That being the case it now becomes evident that at this early stage of the programme’s implementation some schools with a large number of students are likely to be seriously affected in terms service provision.

Another persistent problem, which has reportedly now got worse, is shortage of desks and classrooms. After the government announced free provision of basic education, the enrolment of children has tripled.

This sends a clear message that perhaps the majority of children who failed to go to schools in previous years due to inability of their parents to finance them have now been registered this year.

But all these problems were to be expected, which means that we should have come up with solutions long before the schools opened.
There is also an observation from a section of the public that, much as the decision to provide free basic education is good, the government should have waited for at least a year to implement it.

During the transitional period the government would have got time to critically analyse the consequences of the programme, including finding measures to mitigate them.

Given the fact that the decision on free education comes with a huge number of children’s enrolment that necessitates expansion of the education infrastructure, the government should have taken time to plan its implementation.

It should be understood that by supporting this observation we don’t say the decision to implement the programme this academic year is bad. Our point is that maybe we needed a certain timeframe preparation before its take-off.

Now that we have plunged ourselves into dip waters before grasping the skills of swimming, the task ahead of us is to come up with an affirmative action.

First, the government should go back to the drawing board to find out where it went wrong. Second, local governments must be fully involved in finding the means to resolve some problems arising in the course of implementing the programme. Third, parents should be coaxed into contributing to the programme, at least at this initial stage.

Whether we like it or not, improving the quality of education is the task that involves all us, not the government alone.

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