Why Tanzania's education joke is no laughing matter – The Citizen

By  Charles Makakala

When results of national Form Four exams are scrutinised, one of the things that becomes quite clear is that a big joke is being perpetrated in our education system. The problem is that this joke is not very funny.
Just consider the evidence.
In the past three years, 872,000 candidates, that is 65 percent of all Form Four candidates, got divisions four and zero. That is the number of youngsters who wasted four years in school while they could be doing something useful elsewhere. Millions have been left behind in the past.
In 2021, 335,386 candidates attempted 11 papers, that is, all examinations with the exception of subjects such as Additional Mathematics. The results show that when Tanzanians sit for secondary school exams, two percent will get A grade, six percent B’s, 27 percent C’s, 29 percent D’s, and 36 percent F’s. That is, only eight percent of candidates get a B average or above, while a whopping 65 percent of candidates get D’s and F’s.
If results such as these don’t make Tanzanians flinch in horror, don’t get the relevant minister and team fired, or they don’t make the so-called development partners reconsider their education support unless they see serious intent on transforming the situation, it is difficult to know what would achieve that.
Unfortunately, the nation suffers from a double burden – on one side people have been so desensitised to failure that it doesn’t bother them anymore, and on the other side development partners have a very low opinion of us that they would continue to perpetuate the system while knowing that there is hardly anything to show for it. As a result, those who are responsible for this situation are completely off the hook.
Probably a further review of the situation will help to highlight the need for swift change.
In 2021, out of 12,054 candidates that sat for Bookkeeping paper, only 89 got an A grade. Similarly, out of 12,672 who sat for the Commerce exam, only 23 got an A grade. Just imagine a nation of 60 million people producing 89 A’s in Bookkeeping and 23 A’s in Commerce after four years of study! Twenty-three A’s for 12,672 students? Remarkably, in Additional Mathematics, the subject that requires far superior levels of proficiency, there are 72 A’s out of 319. Kudos to the teachers that made that happen!
While we are at it, why so few candidates sit for business exams? Lately, so much noise is being made about STEM subjects as if this is some holy grail for national development. I did STEM and I don’t see what the hullaballoo is all about. Yes, when you meet a person that is brilliant in math you just feel like taking your hat off. However, in almost all fields of science, technology, or engineering today, there are more graduates in the streets than Tanzania can absorb. Many are underemployed, doing technician jobs. But it feels good to keep talking about STEM, right?
However, given our shockingly poor performance even in subjects such as Bookkeeping and Commerce, the subjects which lay the foundation for those who will be managing businesses, financial institutions and the economy in the future, who will step into those crucial roles if we produce 23 A’s a year? We may as well announce to the world that all future C-level positions will be for foreigners only.
Education programmes in the world are designed in such a way that even people of average intelligence in the population can succeed. So, students don’t need to be geniuses to get A’s and B’s. Anyone who applies himself or herself, when the conditions are right, will get A’s and B’s. However, while there are studies that suggest that certain populations are relatively less endowed mentally than others, where factors such as childhood nutrition and genetics apply, our exam results suggest something is seriously wrong with Tanzanians. But that is not it – Tanzanian students, in a different environment, would have performed just as well as others.
The problem is that the system is broken. But was it designed to work at all? With these results, the evidence suggests that it was created to generate mediocrity. In that regard, we have been astonishingly successful. I mean, you can see mediocrity all around.
A few years ago, I was speaking in front of two dozen or so doctors. After about half an hour, I received a note, quite discreetly, asking me to repeat what I had just said in Swahili! You cannot make these things up.
In 2018, in global sales of tanzanite, the stones found in Tanzania only, Tanzania came a distant third, making less than 10 percent of what India and Kenya make annually. You have to aim for that degree of failure to achieve it.
Again, a big joke is being perpetrated here, and it is not very funny. It is time Tanzania got serious with education. All other developments are a mirage if the population is largely uneducated. It is only a matter of time before smarter individuals and take control of both the economy and the politics.
Fifty years ago, Ugandans of Asian decent controlled 98 percent of retail trade in Kampala and 92 percent of total trade. They also contributed 90 percent of tax revenues, despite being less than one percent of the population. Idi Amin expelled them, but did Ugandans get any better in business? No. Today, people of Asian decent are back, currently contribute 60 percent of tax revenues.
There are no shortcuts.
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