Education experts have welcomed the Tanzanian government’s pledge to hire more teachers in the 2007-2008 financial year to improve the quality of education in the country.
“Many will agree that the most important thing in education is the interaction between motivated, competent teachers and their students," Suleiman Sumra, a retired professor of education and researcher with Hakielimu, an NGO dealing with educational issues, told IRIN.
The government allocated 18 percent of this year’s budget to education and announced plans to hire more teachers in June.
On 11 July, Education Minister Margaret Sitta told a parliamentary session in Dodoma, the country's political capital, that the government would employ 14,490 primary and secondary school teachers to raise standards.
"Permits will also be issued by the government for about 600 expatriate teachers for privately owned primary and secondary schools," Sitta said when she presented her ministry's budget estimates.
Sumra commended the government's efforts to revamp primary and secondary education, saying the 2002-2006 Primary Education Development Plan and the 2004-2009 Secondary Education Development Plan had led to significant improvements in the provision of basic education in the country.
Ministry of Education records show that enrolment in primary schools increased from 4,839,361 in 2001 to 7,969,884 in 2006, while the net enrolment ratio in primary schools increased from 65.5 percent in 2001 to 96.1 percent in 2006.
“This means that nearly all the children of primary school age are now enrolled in primary schools,” Sumra said.
Pressure on secondary schools
The increased enrolment in primary schools has put more pressure on secondary schools to absorb those completing primary education. Enrolment in form one, the first year of secondary education, increased from 99,744 in 2003 to 243,359 in 2006.
Sumra said that while it was important to expand schools and enrol more pupils, the question of teachers should also be tackled. “When you cannot have everything and trade-offs have to be made, priority should be given to teachers over buildings," he added.
During a debate on the education ministry's budgetary estimates, legislators praised the government's efforts to build primary and secondary schools over the past 10 years. However, they expressed concern over the shortage of competent teachers and teaching aids, as well as inadequate laboratories and libraries, especially in rural areas.
"It is unfair for pupils in rural schools, which have very few teachers, to attempt the same examinations as their colleagues in rich, privately owned or missionary schools," said Ponsiano Nyami, a legislator from Nkasi constituency in the remote southwestern region of Rukwa.
Nyami gave an example of a secondary school in his constituency with only one teacher - the headmaster. This teacher was forced to use the school's head-prefect as deputy and to carry out administrative duties, such as looking after visitors.
Another legislator said the number of secondary school leavers was far fewer than the number of places at the country’s 33 universities. This has meant students with lower grades have been given places in higher education.
"What kind of graduates should we expect from such universities?" asked James Wanyancha of Serengeti constituency.
The country has also been facing the problem of rising teenage pregnancies. In late May 2007, President Jakaya Kikwete expressed serious concerns over the number of pregnant girls dropping out of school.
According to official figures, 30 percent of girls enrolled at standard one in primary schools never made it to standard seven. In secondary schools, 20 percent of girls fail to complete four years of education.
"Government statistics show that 95 percent of school girls who become pregnant belong to poor families," said Susan Lyimo, an MP from opposition party Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) during the debate on the education ministry's budget estimates.
Calling on the government to review the country’s laws on pregnant girls’ education, Lyimo said: "Denying education to these girls deprives them of the chance to grow up to their full potential and condemns them to the vicious cycle of poverty.”