On the education front at independence, Tanganyika, as it then was, started on a
very poor footing indeed. There had been very little emphasis on education for the
natives by the British colonial masters. A country of 10 million people had only
20 qualified medical doctors and only two native engineers.
At the end of the second world war in 1945, this huge country with an area of almost
a million square kilometres had a grand total of 92 schools. Only one was a secondary
school and that had opened in 1930. There was very little development of education
facilities for the natives by the colonial administration even after this.
By 1954, only 10% of children were enrolling in schools. Two years before independence
in 1959, there were only 70 native university graduates. 20 of these were teachers,
Nyerere being one of them.
At independence in 1961 the situation was desperate. Schools and colleges were built.
Missionaries and overseas volunteers such as Peace Corps from the United States played
a crucial and important role in expanding education. University college Dar es Salaam
was established (the first in the country) in 1961 as part of the University of East
Africa. It became a fully fledged university in its own right in 1970 and remains
the largest in the country today.
Free universal education
In 1967, the government decreed that education was to be free for every child in
order to accelerate enrolment in primary school. The aim was to ensure all children
were educated. By 1980, five years from his retirement, Tanzania has a primary school
enrolment of over 90%, higher than almost every developing country in the world.
Adult education had been massively expanded as well and well over 65% of all adults
were literate. From the extremely low base at independence almost 20 years earlier,
this was a monumental achievement.
The economic and political liberalisation ushered in after Nyerere’s retirement had
some negative social repercussions as well. Education was probably the most high
profile casualty. By the year 2000, primary school enrolment had dropped below 50%,
a level not seen since the early 1960s. The threat to the social fabric was immense.
Tuition fee had been introduced ignoring the deep level of poverty of most people
in rural Tanzania. They simply could not afford it. A policy reversal was necessary,
urgent and inevitable.
In 2001, the government of Tanzania launched the Education Sector Development Program.
Free (and compulsory) primary education that had been abandoned was re-introduced.
The Secondary Education Development Plan was launched two years later in 2003. By
2006, the net enrolment in Primary school had reached the dizzying heights of 96.1%
from just over 50% five years earlier. However, the country had paid a very high
price for neglecting education in the intervening 15 years or so. There was a huge
cohort of young people who had missed out and who had been left with no means of
personal economic emancipation.
The drive to revive the education sector was also seriously hampered by lack of trained
and competent teachers to cope with the huge surge in demand. The infrastructure,
if anything, was worse than before due to lack of maintenance of school buildings
and woefully inadequate investment in new schools and education facilities. The state
sector had also been hit by the education liberalisation whereby there was a sudden
surge in the opening of new private schools which, inevitably, poached teachers from
the state sector just when the demand had increased. The net result of all this has
been a glaringly obvious deterioration in educational standards at a national level.
There are several, mainly private schools, that still provide high quality education
but these cater for a tiny percentage of the student population.
Moreover, except for church-run schools which remain accessible to all, the majority
of the good private schools are too expensive for the vast majority of ordinary people.
While the numbers have improved dramatically, the statistics hide this huge challenge.
The state will have to rise to this.