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Thursday, December 17, 2009

What about a stimulus package for the education crisis?

Denial is a psychological strategy that humans use to deal with crises. It works up to a point. There comes a time when it utterly fails as a defensive mechanism. Then an implosion occurs.

The recently announced Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) results give a glimpse of the ongoing implosion in the education sector. More than 50 percent of the students who sat for PSLE this year failed. This, we are told, is a decline by 3.32 percent from last years’ results.

According to the Minister responsible for Education, this decline is due to mass failures in Mathematics and English. Nearly 21 percent of the students passed the former. Slightly over 35 percent passed the latter. Ironically, 69 percent passed Kiswahili, this being the highest pass rate.

What is surprising is that despite this steady decline in the past two years or so we haven’t publicly announced that there is an education crisis. Gone are the days when our educators could publicly assemble and boldly tell us to our face to stop denying that there is no education crisis.

Those were the days prior to the Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP). “In early July 1999”, they reminisced, “a firm decision was made by the University of Dar es Salaam Convocation Executive Committee to organize, in early October 1999, a Symposium on The Multi-dimensional Crisis of Education in Tanzania.” It was well attended. Policymakers were there. So were Professors of Education. It received wide coverage and stirred a public debate.

At that time it was stark clear that there was a national crisis. Tanzania was reaping the fruits of the crisis after sowing Structural Adjustment Programmes’ (SAPs) seeds that sapped us of our resources to meet the costs of basic social services. SAPs had introduced cost-sharing after structuring the state to cut down its budget for those services which include health and education.

Commenting on this restructuring one year earlier, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had this to say: “At the World Bank the first question they asked me was `how did you fail?' I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were 2 trained engineers and 12 doctors. This is the country we inherited. When I stepped down there was 91-per-cent literacy and nearly every child was in school. We trained thousands of engineers and doctors and teachers. In 1988 Tanzania's per-capita income was $280. Now, in 1998, it is $140.”

Mwalimu – the teacher – further commented: “So I asked the World Bank people what went wrong. Because for the last ten years Tanzania has been signing on the dotted line and doing everything the IMF and the World Bank wanted. Enrolment in school has plummeted to 63 per cent and conditions in health and other social services have deteriorated. I asked them again: `what went wrong?' These people just sat there looking at me. Then they asked what could they do? I told them have some humility. Humility - they are so arrogant!”

Times have indeed changed. In a way the relatively successful implementation of PEDP made us lower our crisis alarms. Of course we had the likes of HakiElimu that had to pay the ‘interdiction’ penalty for publicly questioning PEDP’s unsuccessful provision of quality education. But in general we have not been as alarmed as we ought to be or as we were in the wake of the global financial crisis. What is happening in education demand(ed) such a response.

So here we are with more than half of those who sat for PSLE being condemned to failure because of our denial. Yet we are busy reviewing the Education and Training Policy of 1995 with the aim of introducing, as a medium of instruction, a language that pupils failed miserably.

We even forget that there was a time PSLE rates increased dramatically simply because we added more weight on a language that is more familiar to most of our children. ‘Primary School Leaving Examinations: A Study on the Increase in Pass Rate’ that was conducted by Tanzania Education Network (Ten/Met) and HakiElimu in 2008 reveals that. It is based on PSLE data.

Its following finding on one of the two reasons for the increase in 2004 is quite revealing: “One, making English and Kiswahili into two papers increased the weighting of these papers from 33.3 percent to 50.0 percent and decreased the weighting of the other two papers from 33.3 percent to 25.0 percent.” This simply means that more students passed because of Kiswahili. It is their home language, the one they practically use to interact with their environment on a daily basis.

The following finding from this study is more telling: “In 2006, 70.7 percent of the children passed PSLE, meaning that these children were competent to enroll in and benefit from secondary education. Yet only 48.0 percent of the children passed the English paper. This means that at least 22.7 percent of the children are eligible to enroll in secondary schools even though they failed English, the language of instruction in secondary education.” What a ‘false start’!

My preliminary analysis of the PSLE results for 2009 reveals that this is the same story, albeit more bleak. It reminds me of students in one of the secondary schools we recently visited. They point blank said, albeit in Kiswahili, ‘the English language is difficult therefore teachers should mix it with the national language.’ What a plea for accessing knowledge in understandable ways!

The education system is already in a crisis. Continuing with a confused language policy will change the crisis from an implosion to an explosion. We better come up with a stimulus package even if that entails ‘importing’ teachers who can teach English properly as a second language.

Thanks to the government the Ministry responsible for Education has acknowledged that not all of the funds allocated to schools reach them. Its 2009 Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) has revealed that only 87 percent of the budget was received by Local Government Authorities (LGAs) responsible for primary schools. What reached the schools could be less.

This is a proof that we need to stimulate our education system. It needs more funds. And PETS.

© Chambi Chachage - The Citizen (15 December 2009)

1 comments:

Faustine December 17, 2009 at 10:28 PM  

Very good article! I too have lamented about the education crisis in our country in a number of my posts including this recent one: http://drfaustine.blogspot.com/2009/12/standard-seven-results-building-nation.html#links

We need to admit the problem and start addressing the crisis, otherwise, we are slowly building a nation of fools.
Mdau
Faustine

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