Education for all

Free schooling spells increased enrollment

UNICEF Tanzania
A fully-packed classroom
04 July 2019

A visit to the Mabande Primary School in Dar es Salaam’s largest district, Temeke, gives you a sense of the success achieved by the government in reaching the global goal for enrollment in schools.

In 2014, the Government of Tanzania introduced a fee-free education policy, making pre-primary and primary education free, waiving all registration and exam fees that parents had to pay in the past and posed a significant financial barrier. Today, the primary school boasts 7,124 pupils. Before the implementation of the policy, Mabande had 5,800 students enrolled.

“The fee-free policy led to a dramatic increase in enrollment in pre- primary and early primary education, by about 31 per cent by 2017,” said Mashaka Frederick Daviden, the head teacher at Mabande, which also happens to be the largest primary school in the city.

But the welcome influx of students also came with a challenge. The number of students grew much faster than the schools’ infrastructure, resulting in a skewed teacher-to-pupil ratio in classrooms and inadequate resources.

Talia Ahmedy Mbuguni, a pre-primary teacher at the school, has 221 children in her class, nearly 10 times the ideal size for that age group. The children have a hard time in understanding what is being taught. “A smaller classroom would allow me to reach every child individually,” added Talia.

Donatha David Mshana teaches one of the several Standard I (grade 1) classes in the school. Her 203 pupils have to share 50 textbooks and desks, while they sit in tight rows of four - a cheerful but crowded cohort of little heads huddled over one book.

“Children this age need a calm environment to pay attention, and teachers need to build a close relationship with every child,” said Donatha. Ashuma M. Kaima, another Standard I teacher, had to move her desk outside the classroom in order to accommodate her 201 pupils. Students have to press against her desk on the way out of the classroom to hand in their math assignments, squeezing through the doorway as she tries to mark them on the spot. The crowded environment is a challenge.

“I think we are too many in one class,” says Felix, a 13-year-old student of Ashuma, who loves math, science and english, and wants to be a pilot. “I love to study but it’s hard at the moment. Still, I want to complete my ambition and learn to fly.”

In September 2018, 775 pupils of Standard VII struggled to find a quiet environment and space to study while preparing for their final exams. They were allowed to use the school grounds outdoors to study in small learning groups. The teachers at Mabande School try to find creative solutions to effectively manage the number of pupils and handle the volume of work generated, while providing an effective learning environment.

However, the challenges add to the difficulties of the most vulnerable children—girls, children living with disabilities or extreme poverty. While the school is working hard to find innovative ways to cope with this “positive emergency”, challenges remain. Quality of teaching and learning are negatively impacted when the pupil- toteacher ratio stands as high as 145:1 in mainland Tanzania, with Dar es Salaam having the best ratio at 41:1 and Lindi the worst at 481:1. This calls for an urgent need for accelerating teacher deployment in lower grades, and in schools with the widest gaps.

Teacher sitting by the door to the classroom, greeting her students.
Talia Ahmedy Mbuguni, a pre-primary teacher at the school, has 221 children in her class, nearly 10 times the ideal size for that age group.
Children sitting outside school
Children study for final exams outside in small groups.

“While it is a great thing that more and more children have access to the school, we need to develop our inadequate infrastructure,” says the head teacher. Classrooms are scarce, and toilets are numbered. There are only 20 toilets, divided equally between boys and girls.

“We need at least 25 for each, and also separate ones for the preprimary children,” says Mashaka. According to the government’s established standards, 1 toilet is recommended for every 25 boys and 1 for every 20 girls. A new school would allow them to divide the students and build appropriate facilities. However, the nearest alternative (school) is seven kilometers away, which is much too far for the youngest pupils to travel.

Tanzania will need to hire tens of thousands of teachers to fill the gap, which is one of the underlying reasons for the poor pupil to teacher ratio. However, training and hiring on such a massive scale is a big challenge. To narrow this gap, UNICEF is supporting the government with adequate capacity building and training, and deployment of volunteers from among the many unemployed teacher college and university graduates clamoring for work as a stopgap measure pending government recruitment procedures.

Currently, UNICEF has been piloting the use of paraprofessional teachers (volunteers from the community) at 65 satellite centres in Mbeya and Iringa regions. By training the paraprofessionals on child-centred learning methodologies, UNICEF has demonstrated a cost-effective solution for the teacher shortage in rural areas that is now being considered for national scale-up.

The current gap in terms of teacher requirements for Tanzania stands in the thousands. This requires more resources for expedited training, perhaps by remote learning, and for incentivizing volunteers.