Amelia Kacher and Dr. Michael Bush, Associate Professor of French and Instructional Psychology and Technology
I spent three months living with an African family in a little village of Marangu, Tanzania with hopes to learn about the education system in the area. This research included learning about the logistics of the system i.e., who goes to school, how much schooling is required, how the schools are run, and how effective the system seems to be. I wanted to learn of the views and attitudes towards education in general as well as the attitudes towards the system in Tanzania. I was interested in learning how education had affected their rich culture especially during their years as a German and then an English colony. I looked into how modern day technology had or had not influenced the schools, more specifically how often computers were used in the schools. I strived to find the best ways an individual such as myself could be of service in any way possible without encouraging their dependence upon a western country.
In order to conduct this research, I took advantage of the many schools that were in the area where I lived. I approached a variety of schools- primary, secondary, private and government schools, as well as a teachers college, and a vocational college. I observed classes and I interviewed teachers and principals. In addition to observing and interviewing, I was given my own class of 13 standard V (similar to 5th grade) students to teach English to, nearly every day for two months. Through this teaching experience, I was able to see more in depth inside the classroom and gain a greater understanding of how students behave as well as the student/teacher relationship. I was also able to spend a good deal of time in the staff room with the teachersgetting a greater inside view of their attitudes towards schooling, their work ethic, as well as discipline philosophies. In addition to work in the schools, I conducted many interviews with a variety of people- young and old as well as with those who are educated and those who are not. I was also fortunate enough to become acquainted with certain people who held high positions in the town as well as in the region who were able to answer many of my questions.
At first, the thoughts of approaching the schools and the people were somewhat intimidating. Fear left immediately, though, when I realized how warm and welcoming the African people really are. I hardly faced any problems in dealing with the schools. I learned that, by nature, the African people will do anything they can to help others who are in need. This selflessness in their culture deeply touched me; I was often in awe at their willingness to set everything aside in order to answer my questions, guide me and direct me, and help me in my research. Although I did not encounter too much of a problem, I learned that it is important to be careful in making promises. There is an attitude among many people there that the white man has a lot of money and will always come to their aid. In order to avoid any false hopes, it was necessary that I always make it clear that I was in Tanzania only as a student doing research, not to bring money or supplies of any kind.
In Tanzania, it is a law for all children to begin school at the age of 7 in Standard I, and to remain in school all the way through Standard VII. Primary school is Standards I-VII and is most often Swahili medium. There are exceptions; a certain number of private schools have chosen to use English as their medium in the classroom. The government funds primary school, although parents must pay school fees as well as pay for books, paper, pens, and uniforms. Students in Standard VII must take a national exam that will determine whether or not they can be accepted to a government Secondary School. Of the primary schools I visited, on average only about 5-10 students of a 45 student class would pass the exam with high enough grades to go on to Secondary School. The rest of the class could either end their schooling there, find the funding to afford going to a Private Secondary School, or a Vocational School. It is very competitive and very difficult to get into a Secondary School. Secondary School consists of forms I-IV. Another national exam is given in form IV to determine who can continue on to forms V-VI. Once again, competition is very high; it is very difficult and rare to find students continue through forms V and VI, and then on to University. All Secondary Schools, colleges, and Universities are completely in English.
From what I observed, it was clear that most people considered receiving at least a primary education to be extremely important, and most had hopes of themselves or their children finishing secondary school, although it was not as common. The Kilimanjaro region, where I was living, is known in Tanzania to place a high importance on education because this is the one of the first regions where the early German missionaries came to and established their churches and schools, setting an example for the natives in the area. A few people that I spoke with felt as if education had westernized Tanzania and had replaced too many of their traditions. However, they all felt that it was still necessary to receive an education.
Many people complained that now, education has become too expensive. Not enough people can afford an education past primary school. The government cannot provide enough schools and teachers for everyone to go to secondary school. Not only are there not enough schools, but also there are not enough supplies with in the schools. In the government schools, students are always placed in fours sharing one book. Computers are found in only a few of the Secondary Schools, none of which have access to the Internet, although computers are becoming more common. Those students who had been able to afford an education complained that it did not do them any good. Once they finish school, it can take years to actually find a job. Even those who had finished University faced the same problem. Inside the classrooms, all teachers that I observed taught very formally, in a manner that really seemed to restrict the students from learning.
The African people and their culture have so much to offer and to teach us. I feel that the best way to help a country such as this is to not necessarily to send money and supplies, but to share ideas with them. Teach them what we know about more advanced teaching methodologies, and more effective school systems, at the same time taking from them the lessons they have to offer. An attitude needs to be created where both countries’ strengths are equally needed, so that one is not dependant on the other.