Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shall we address Mwalimu Nyerere's unanswered question?

14 October 2007 marks the eighth Nyerere Day. Once again we commemorate the life and times of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding President of Tanzania. It is an opportunity for our society to reflect on the thoughts of one of its key social thinkers.

This week we rethink Nyerere’s passion. One of the things that Nyerere, fondly called Mwalimu i.e. Teacher, had a lifelong passion for was primary education. He endlessly thought about it, talked about it, wrote about it and probably dreamt about it. It is not surprising then that two volumes of ‘Nyerere on Education’ are attributed to him.

Mwalimu raised significant questions about primary education. He also attempted to provide answers or at least chart out solutions. His mind particularly wrestled with that old problem that has assailed educationalists since independence. That is, the problem of balancing quantity and quality in primary education.

How does a country with limited educational resources provide education services in large quantity without compromising the quality of the services? Quantity or quality, which one do you choose when it seems you cannot have both? The question has proved to be stably divisive.

There are those who, in line with one World Bank representative, would rather wrestle with the issue of quality when school-aged children are in schools and not out of schools. Thus, one does not have to put on hold the large ‘quantity’ of school-aged children who need to be enrolled in schools until the provision of quality education is assured.

Then there are those who, as Mwalimu said, would argue that “when public resources are scant, it is absurd for a government to continue wasting money on pretence of educating everyone and thus being unable to give a good education to anyone.”

To do away with this absurdity, the argument continues, we should mainly focus on quality. Quantitatively, it means providing education to a reasonable number of children. Qualitatively, this translates to minimizing student-teacher ratios, increasing student-book ratios and improving other qualitative aspects. And all this at the expense of ensuring that primary education, whether of good quality or not, is available to every child.

How do we balance these contending views and get a win-win situation? While we celebrate our quantitative strides toward achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE), we better ask ourselves: How do we ensure that the Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP) is not only about numbers of classrooms built and children enrolled? How can we make PEDP pays equal, or even more, attention to the provision of adequate quality books, qualified teachers and teaching equipment?

‘What has been Achieved in Primary Education? Key Findings from Government Review October 2007’ reveals they way we address Nyerere’s concern. One disturbing revelation is the wide variation in the percent of PEDP funds released from the approved budget amounts in the financial year 2005/2006 for its various strategic components. This is particularly disturbing because only 89.4 percent of the approved funds were released.

When it comes to the personnel emolument component of PEDP, 100 percent of Tsh 237,377,962,000 was released. In terms of percent, this is not very far from the 98. 9 percent of Tsh 33,370,210,800 released for other charges/admin. However, for quality improvement only 60.5 percent of Tsh 95,023,895,400 was released. This percent is a far cry from the 96.5 percent of Tsh 33, 616, 453, 970 released for enrolment expansion.

To add quantity of salt to the injury of quality we are told that a government report stated that the funding gap “was due to non fulfillment of commitments made by Development Partners.” So much for shelving Mwalimu’s policy of ‘Education for Self-Reliance’!

Mwalimu did not claim to have answers to the quality vis-√†-vis quantity problematic. He attempted to address it again in ‘Education and Development in Africa’. But, alas, he ended putting it in more dilemmatic terms:

“And in Africa if every child does not go to school those to be left out will be mostly the girls. Yet primary education for all, at least in Africa, requires full commitment from the state. The fact remain, however, it is possible for government to choose only between evils. A pretence of universal education – whether it be primary or secondary – is itself evil: is it any better than finding some way of giving a modern education to a few through some system of selection?”

Mwalimu’s question remains unanswered. The search for answers, he insisted, will have to continue. And to plan is to choose, he kept reminding us. As we rethink PEDP and our ‘Education and Training Policy’ we ought to keep in mind the urgent need to balance quantity and quality in education.

Author: Chambi Chachage
Source: The Citizen 12/10/07

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Are we taught to know or ignore?

The language debate has gained new momentum. However, its main theme is the same: the usage of Kiswahili as a medium of instruction in our entire education system. Its key players are also the same: politicians and professionals.

It is one thing to gain new momentum. It is another thing to get new direction. This ought to be our concern as we join another round of the seemingly never-ending debate. We need to be clear about the ground that has been covered and pitfalls that remain to be filled.

The parliamentary debate in the August assembly gives us a glimpse. The deputy leader of the opposition camp asked if the Ministry of Information, Sports and Culture had a timeframe for switching to Kiswahili as a medium of instruction in the education system. Echoing the clarification given by the Minister of Education and Vocational Training in April, the deputy minister of the former ministry affirmed that the government has not yet decided.

It was reported that the deputy minister went on to stress that deciding to use Kiswahili is a complex issue. As such, it involves a number of stakeholders. Hence his ministry was in the process of communicating with other ministries so as to reach a collective decision. However, he cautioned that the change would be expensive and take time.

What is particularly striking is that the debate seems to depart from its traditional deadlock. Here I am referring to the Kiswahili versus English argumentation which has bedeviled it for quite some time. It appears as if the debate is no longer stuck on whether we should either stick to English or switch to Kiswahili. Hence it is tempting to conclude that it is heading toward the direction of how and when - rather than why - should we effect the change.

To the optimist advocates of the use of a language that can easily be understood and hence transfer knowledge readily, the change of direction could be a promising restart. However, for pessimist advocates of the same course, this could be another doomed false start.

Optimists may assert that yielding to Kiswahili is an outcome of research influence. These include pioneering studies under the aegis of Baraza la Kiswahili Tanzania (BAKITA) and relatively new ones under the Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA) project. All have consistently shown that there is little, if any, knowledge transfer between most teachers and students due to mutual limited English proficiency.

Pessimists might argue that we have been there before. As an example, they could cite the 1983 controversial policy revert to English at the eleventh hour. English still reigns, they may add, even though this is the tenth year since the 1997 Cultural Policy stated that a “special plan to enable the use of Kiswahili as a medium of instruction in education and training at all levels shall be designed and implemented.”

It is quite possible that politicians and policymakers are overwhelmed with the weight of evidence regarding the importance of switching to Kiswahili. Most of them have gone through the same Babel and can therefore relate to its reality. If I was one of them I wouldn’t need any more evidence than my own experience to be convinced.

One day my teacher wrote this definition on the blackboard: “Species are groups of organisms that can interbreed to produce fertile of spring.” I knew the meanings of fertile and spring. But I couldn’t figure out how they fit in. Anyway, I memorized and reproduced it in the examination. As you can guess, I got it right.

It was only later, much later, when I came to know what species are. Actually, they produce fertile offspring. I don’t know whether it was my teacher’s fault or mine. What I know is that as a boy I frustratingly tried to breed fish. But, alas, they produced infertile offspring! I didn’t know why. What a missed opportunity to relate what I was taught with what I practiced! I wonder if my teacher taught what she knew.

Teaching is primarily about imparting knowledge. When you teach someone to cook ugali what matters mostly is that s/he ends up knowing how to cook ugali. Language is only a medium to facilitate knowledge exchange. And the efficient medium is the one that knowledge users know reasonably well.

Could it be that we have politicized language at the expense of professionalizing it. Are we trying too hard to know the form to the extent that we ignore the content?

Author: Chambi Chachage
Source: The Citizen 17/08/07

Monday, November 12, 2007

What makes you more Tanzanian?

As soon as Miss Tanzania 2007 was announced on Saturday night two phone messages woke me up: “Gosh the new Miss Tanzania is Indian!”; “Wow I can’t believe it, a new Tanzania is possible!” They reminded me of the nagging question of what it means to be Tanzanian.

The question is subtly insinuated in many occasions as if its answer is a given and questioning it is a taboo. This is at work when someone, seeing people with stereotypical Asian features celebrate fervently the triumph of our national soccer team, exclaims “and these too!” It also operates when some employers with these features asserts that employees judge them as being overbearing simply on the basis of their color.

These examples suggest that a question mark over our national identity is a norm rather than an exception. If racial identification is on the rise, as some members of minority groups assert, then it is important to unpack this Pandora’s box of fragmented identities in constructive ways. But, you may ask, where do we start?

When Tanzania was formed in 1964 it was a mosaic of cultures, communities and colours. National building, as it was patriotically called then, was a priority. In Tanganyika race was the primary criterion for determining social, political and economic status since the turn of the 20th century. Before independence, as the author of ‘Who are Indigenous Tanzanians? Competing Conception of Tanzanian Citizenship in the Business Community’ notes, Tanganyika was segregated into three distinct groups.

The first group, which was primarily European, enjoyed full privileges of British citizenship. Most Asians comprised the second group and were treated as second-class citizens i.e. British-protected persons. The last group, the natives or Africans, were more subjects than citizens. Needless to say, this preferential treatment fermented resentment.

In 1961 the division was so deep to the extent that the Citizenship Bill was considerably opposed in the legislature. The Prime Minister spoke emotionally against opponents who sought to base citizenship on colour rather than loyalty to our country. He warned that “because of the situation we have inherited in this country, where economic classes are also identical with race, that we live on dynamite, that it might explode any day, unless we do something about it.” We indeed did something. But was/is it enough?

The dynamite tend to explode periodically, albeit partially. In 1993 it was loud enough to make one student write a first class dissertation. He dubbed it ‘The Resurgence of Racial Tensions in Tanganyika 1991-1994: The Gabacholi Phenomenon.” It took one racially charged speech, he observed, to spark the stoning of some cars. And one act of removing street vendors from Kariakoo ignited a rampage in which some shops were plundered. In both cases mobs targeted properties of people with stereotypical Asian features.

Bitter quarrels over the victory of Miss Tanzania might be yet another warning tip of our racial iceberg. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then it can help us detect remaining racialist landmines. When we wish these racist explosives away we overlook that any Tanzanian has multiple identities. Hence we run the risk of detonation. If we do not honestly deactivate them then one day they may fully explode.

I am not a beauty pageant fan as far as cultural imperialism is concerned. Perhaps that is why I was asleep during the contest. But I believe in matriotism/patriotism with respect to our national welfare. Hence I find these statements from someone who plans to support people in hardship and orphans highly patriotic/matriotic: “I am a Tanzanian”; “My colour is not a problem”; “I call on all Tanzanians to join hands in my social activities”; “I am taking the crown with a strong determination to promote my country.” What more are we asking from her?

I once alluded to an advert that appeared in a highly race conscious country. It flashes a question, ‘what makes you African?’ Then it shows an African albino and asks, ‘is it the colour of your skin?’ It goes on to show Africans with blond hairs, blue eyes and other stereotypical European features. I argued that this highlights how we can take certain definitions for granted and makes us rethink such complex identities.

Let us rethink multifaceted meanings of being Tanzanian. We can do so by asking why certain citizens with stereotypical European or Asian features are viewed as being more Tanzanians than some of us who claim to be indigenous. Isn’t it because they are more matriotic/patriotic than those who plunder Tanzania at the expense of fellow citizens?

Author: Chambi Chachage
Source: The Citizen 07/09/07

Is outsourcing our government an option?

At last we have come to the close of an eventful month. August has treated us with many surprises. Some passed unnoticed. Others still linger in our minds.

As we were busy disputing a government minister’s role in Buzwagigate, our former Premier added fuel to the fiery debate. In an interview with the Sunday Citizen (26.08.07), he revealed a startling secret. For all those 10 years as a Premier he was blind to the real causes of poverty!

“During my leadership,” he confessed, “I was always wondering why, despite all the efforts we were making in the government plus the support from donor community, we remained a very poor nation with living conditions deteriorating everyday. But today I see clearly what the problem is.”

Ironically, it only took a year at Harvard University to cure his blindness. This is ironic because many Tanzanian thinkers and policy advisors have been educated at Harvard or similar liberal institutions. When the Premier was in power some of them went as far as producing a multi-sectoral analysis of ‘Why is Tanzania still Poor 40 Years after Independence?’ Some even participated in formulating the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (Mkukuta).

In surprising moments likes these it is tempting to think of outrageous ideas. After all in a country with a constitution that advocates freedom of expression, we are free to think. Isn’t that one of the rights we fought for during independence? With this disclaimer, what I have in mind is the often concealed idea of re-colonization. Who said the call for a return to colonialism is only whispered in corridors of diehard colonialists?

I have encountered the re-colonization idea in many guises. The first time was in secondary school. In what was the most vibrant class, our Kiswahili teacher introduced a new text. It instantly sparked a lively debate on the poor condition of Tanzania. To her dismay some students argued that as far as development is concerned it is better to be re-colonized. Then one day I overheard a couple of elderly folks asserting that although colonialists whipped and forced them to work hard, at least they developed the country.

In another instance I reviewed a book with elaborate plans of outsourcing executive and judiciary arms of African states. The author, a Tanzanian, argues that if we do so the foreign administrators who win the bid will run our governments efficiently. This will be based on renewable contracts and our sovereignty would be safeguarded by legislatures.

The re-colonization thesis is usually supported by controversial evidence or rhetorical questions. You go to Kigoma and you are shown remains of German colonialism. Then you are asked to compare them with whatever our government has built since independence. You pass through defective railways in Kilimanjaro and you are told that the last time they were repaired was during British colonialism. Then you are asked how many railways has the independent government built anyway.

What is puzzling about nostalgic feelings for colonialism is their resonance with what is going on. Citizens are invited to Mkukuta meetings and to their surprise they witness foreign poverty advisors presiding as minds of the government while local experts fold their hands silently. Tanzanians attempt to have policy dialogues with the government but to their surprise they first have to engage with foreign policy advisors masquerading as government spokespersons. In these circumstances who wouldn’t wonder whether we have started outsourcing our government?

As the Sunday Citizen notes, the former Premier’s confession has kick started an interesting debate on whether those who are governing are equipped well enough to understand exactly our problems and their solutions. It is important for the debate to be open enough to accommodate outrageous ideas. This way we can be well informed about subtle ideas that might turn into injurious ideologies if they evade us.

The idea of re-colonization is creeping just like the way the idea of colonialism crept. The latter was bolstered by the civilization mission and scientific racism. The former is reinforced by the liberalization mission and technocratic indoctrination. Both intend to change our mindset.

While promoting freedom of thought we ought to be thoughtful enough not to take independence for granted. Let us remember Mwalimu Nyerere’s words: “The British used to say ‘you people can’t be independent because you don’t have this, you don’t have that, you don’t have the other thing.’ I’d say this is rubbish.” As a people we have our collective mind. Surely we can use it independently to govern our country.

Author: Chambi Chachage
Source: The Citizen 31/08/07

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