A former University of Dar es Salaam professor who was a minister under John Magufuli and Samia Suluhu until recently has decided to call out Tanzania’s education system, stating that it is inadequate and not geared toward producing properly trained nation builders.
It was not too clear what Prof Kitila Mkumbo was suggesting be done, but his sense of frustration with the education we dispense to our young ones was clear in his statement. And he is not alone in that frustration. It is clear our education system is beset with so many problems that even to call it an education system is a misnomer, because there is nothing one could call that in our current situation.
I hesitate to call what we have a “system” because there is precious little that is done systematically. For starters, although we have several government departments and other bodies milling around our school structures, we cannot be sure what these schools follow in terms of curricula and other programmes. We operate in a multifaceted educational dispensation wherein it is apparently alright for Tanzanian parents who can afford the price to take their children wherever they fancy.
We have schools around the country teaching their own variety of curriculum so that in places like Dar es Salaam, you can get the American, the Turkish, the French, the Indian and Arabic systems (to mention but a few) and one wonders which Tanzanians these schools cater for.
Sure, we have many foreigners living and working in our country, and these need to access the education they would have received if they had been in their countries and thus it is only fair that they be allowed to have schools that cater for them. But that is not the case, because most of the children going to these schools are actually Tanzanians brought up in foreign thought systems in their own country.
Because these are the children of our so-called elites, and because these so-called elites have the habit of favouring their children in terms of job placements and career advancement, the children are the ones being prepared to take over from their parents in running the affairs of the country. We witness them today as they are being shoehorned into positions of “leadership” to take over from their parents but these young fellows have exhibited no particular ability to provide leadership.
But maybe the issue is not even there. The crux of the problem is that we have relegated issues pertaining to education to a mechanical operational mould wherein all we seem to need is brick-and mortar structures large enough to contain a given number of pupils, and a given number of joined pieces of lumber to seat them, to declare a given structure a “school.” But these structures and their wooden joinery could be perfect for anyone looking to run a mortuary!
Yet, what matters in education is what happens between the learner and the teacher, the intercourse of two brains feeding off each other and discovering what they both can gain from the other, mutually. That has not been acknowledged for a number of decades, and what we have produced are ignoramuses whose rote learning and multiple-choice exams have manufactured hundreds of thousands of pedestrian brains unable to engage in thinking work.
And we are seeing it before our very eyes, young people lacking the self-confidence to express themselves, even when they can grasp the subject matter, the avoidance of disputation when it is badly needed and the acquiescence in oppressive groupthink situations, which has been driving our political processes. We have a whole generation of yes-men and women.
It is not surprising, therefore, that our “elites,” having run our education into the ground, have been for some time running away, sending their children to Kenya, Uganda, South Africa or the US, or if they are still in-country, placing them in the foreign school types.
There are unconfirmed reports suggesting that when Mohammed Gulen, the exiled Turkish financier, fell out with his erstwhile friend Recep Erdogan and allegedly organised a coup against him, Erdogan tried to convince Magufuli to close the Gulen schools in Tanzania but could not because, simply, there are too many Tanzanian “elites” with children there.
Prof Kitila’s lament will find a number of echoes, because there are just too many issues pertaining to education that Tanzanians have not been able to address for the past several decades. One of the problems is that our rulers may not know what constitutes education and may not have come across people like Paolo Fereire, the Brazilian friend of Julius Nyerere whose little book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, sums up the education needs for us in the Third World.
I will have a hundred other occasions to come back to the issue of education – in my view the be-all and end-all of human liberation – but for now let me leave my readers with a one-liner that poses the question that has been debated in Tanzania without end, and without solution: Can a nation give its children education in a language that is understood by neither its learners nor its teachers, and produce thinkers?
It is not a hypothetical question.
The East African