Back to school, to learn how to reed and rite By ELSIE EYAKUZE | Monday, January 16 2012 at 11:51
It is back-to-school month. The shopping centres and public spaces of Dar es Salaam have been overflowing with young people enjoying the very last hurrah before they have to get back into classrooms to do the serious work of learning.
At least, that is the case with the lucky ones who get the opportunity to acquire a formal education. Unfortunately, when it comes to the public school system, it has clearly become a massive challenge for us to provide a solid education to students.
A debate emerged recently where some people were proposing that private schools cap their school fees so that they can become affordable to larger sectors of the public.
It is a good socialist argument to forcibly equalise the playing field so that all children can access close to the same opportunities as the children of the wealthier class.
The trouble is that this won’t work one bit: The base standard of education is always going to be set by the public system. We are better off pressurising the government to improve its services than chasing after the enclaves of the rich — which may, or may not, offer a better product.
What does a solid education mean anyways?
The goal posts must be changing all the time to reflect current realities. I imagine that once upon a time it made perfect sense for all the girls to do some home economics while all the boys acquired some tradesman-like skills making things with their hands.
Youth time bomb
I certainly remember being exposed to the joys of knitting and other useful things to do with string, which would have come in handy if it made sense to corner the Dar es Salaam market for winter clothing and doilies. Instead, the labour market is less interested in crafty things you can make with your hands unless they are premium goods, and more interested in things you can make with your mind and pure ambition.
Which is where some of the problem lies.
The government requires by law that children go to school at a certain age — a solid, progressive policy. Schools can be wonderful places to socialise and learn crucial skills of the modern age such as how to read, write and count.
The world is cruel to those who do not have these skills. Sadly, the Tanzanian public education is notorious — at least within our borders — for churning out primary school graduates who haven’t mastered their reading and writing, let alone more complex skills.
Already, complaints are rife that we are not competitive in our own labour market.
The ticking time bomb of youth unemployment is a product of this system.
There is talk about what to do with frustrated youth and how to create opportunities for them.
The truth is that it may be too late to think that way for the majority of angry youth.
The mistake was made early in the game when in good faith they went to school and their upstanding citizen parents paid contributions for their “free” education at public school... and they were short-changed by a system that counts numbers and not achievements.
Nothing shows this better than the shift from bright-eyed enthusiasm that Standard I pupils display to the sullen resignation and terror of National Examinations that hunch-shouldered Standard VII students give off.
The present would probably look dramatically different if the government were less interested in streaming people into arbitrary divisions that determine their lives and more interested in making sure that young people leave school with the ability to read, to write, to count and most importantly the belief that they can make something of themselves.
This may be the most crucial service that our public education system can do for young people: Teach them not only to aspire, but to have the courage to go out and create the lives that they want.
Technocrats and politicians can happily hammer out the ins and outs of curriculum development and cost-per-capita of a primary school education and aid and policy etc.
This level of thinking still doesn’t touch on a fundamental question: What is it that our education system intends to deliver to Tanzanians, and why.
We should be aiming at unleashing the potential of all the millions of excellent young minds that the country enjoys.
We should radicalise our thinking and listen to educators who can show us something about nurturing human spirit rather than simply administrating minors through a rigid, unresponsive system.
We should be radicalising our aims. If we did, the next generation may just pull this country up by its bootlaces.
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