Elimu bora, sio, bora elimu

Twaweza is one of our partners and they are embarking on a project to understand and catalyze public agency in the areas of basic education and governance. I was part of the team who went to Ilemela and Mvomero to collect data on service users’ perceptions about quality education and am going to reflect here on my observations from these districts and from my other engagements with local government authorities.

This research study was designed based on an assumption that teachers did not attend their classroom sessions. We set off to find out why and what could be done to change this undermining behavior. I struggled with the initial assumption and worried that as outsiders with this assumption we were setting ourselves up to face resistance.

The workshops adapted a process that was developed by Kegan & Lahey (2001) who explored people’s “immunity to change.” They argued,

"Resistance to change does not reflect opposition, nor is it merely a result of inertia. Instead many people are unwittingly applying productive energy toward a hidden competing commitment. The resulting dynamic equilibrium stalls the effort in what looks like resistance but is in fact a kind of personal immunity to change."

We therefore sought to look at those things that teachers, citizens, and children claim to be committed to in terms of their schools, and then helped them to explore what causes them to undermine these commitments.

When we asked workshop participants about what they would like to be changed in their school to ensure that teachers were more present, many of the complaints concerned the physical state of the school. This included insufficient classrooms, lack of school meals, housing for teachers, safe drinking water, and clean sanitation facilities. Participants also spoke of factors that cause the teachers to lose commitment to their calling, including poor pay, unfulfilled claims against the government, and poor working conditions.

All of the complaints that were surfaced externalized responsibility to others. This continued even when the question asked participants to probe deeper into their own role in ensuring that their school realized its potential.

We realized that the focus on the physical aspects of the school is a more easily felt need than the lack of teachers’ motivation Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would recognize that the lack of basic infrastructure poses a major gap in these schools. The lack of food for students and teachers, the unfit classrooms, the lack of teacher housing, the poor pay all mean that teachers’ basic physical needs are unmet.

The concern is how the lack of resources in the schools also undermines their psychological well being. Teachers spoke of the stress and frustration of having to handle over 100 students in a class with no teaching materials; and the existential crisis that many had when they realized that they were unable to practice their vocation as a teacher because of the impossible conditions.

Tanzania has prioritized education because it is considered as an important tool for human development. The right to education is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania 1977 which observes that,

Every person has the right to self education, and every citizen shall be free to pursue education in a field of his choice up to the highest level according to his merits and ability.”

 In 2002, the government made primary education compulsory and free resulting in increased access and participation. As a country we now have so many children in school that there are 43.4 pupils per teacher, and 47,256 vacancies in the profession (McAlpine, 2017). Universal free primary education is a positive aspiration, but it demands that the necessary infrastructure is put in place.

The fact that the agenda has also been politicized has created unintended consequences. With the move towards universal free primary education, parents are not required to make any contributions towards the development of the school and yet the funds provided to the schools do not cover necessities like school lunches or security. All too often parents and guardians seem to have disengaged with any issues of development in their school.

Teachers expressed their frustration at the system, and at their inability to really effect change. They perceive that the government does not value their profession and that their calls to improve their working conditions fall on deaf ears.

As a nation we are failing to grasp the fact that demotivated teachers have the ability to destroy a whole generation of children. By and large teachers are committed to their profession and to delivering quality education, but they are being set up to fail. In doing so we sell our children and our country short.

Children receive the bare bones of an education, rather than anything that would equip them to thrive in a modern complex society. We have to ask ourselves “Is something really better than nothing, when it comes to formal education?”

For more reflections on this piece of work see Twaweza’s summary.