Are Education Levels Rising?

FOLLOWING the publication of results of last year’s National Form IV examinations and a supposedly higher level of passing, while the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training freely admits that the ‘higher passing level’ was   obtained by reducing sensitive pass mark levels, stakeholders remain puzzled. What next for our education system is an oft-posed question that has really no answer, as hopes remain that the standards and achievements will rise gradually, as expansion has been done since 2006. What remains is an uplifting of standards.

Yet it appears that the descending curve is either not yet reached or it may have finally been reached, subsequent to which it is the rise curve that shall take over. Just how long it will take for the learning and performance curve in local exams to reach the rest of East Africa is anyone’s guess, and if care isn’t taken, the yawning gap could become a permanent feature of educational levels in the region. Tied to it is the class expression of this curve, where private schools increasingly become a top stratum, pushing the best government schools down the ladder, inexorably.

One clear reason for the deeepening performance curve gap is relative diminishing of purchasing power among broad sectors of the population, relatively stagnant levels of malnutrition and stunting of children, which experts regularly put at a third or anywhere up to 40 per cent of children starting school. Certain quarters object to these estimates because of a faulty interpretation of stunting, virtually equating it with mental disability, an exttreme view. It is merely the lack of proportion between age and height or weight, which affects mental development.

Suggesting school feeding programs would be a good idea to correct some of the weaknesses of family nutrition levels as a whole, but in keeping with the tradition, it would have to be a donor funded program also exposed to plenty of misdirected use of grain, milk or fortified foods of various sorts. And in addition such an effort would have to put up with totally unqualified, unwelcome objections of a green lobby much more concerned with dogma about GMOs than nutrition levels among the children. The anti-GMO lobby has prevented the widespread adoption or use of drought resistant seeds for a whole decade wreaking untold havoc in famines.

Looking at the situation a bit closely, there is little more than convergence of the weak points of childbirth (where Tanzania has regularly hit the roof, and is now on a difficult downward slope in maternal and child deaths at birth) and then fewer chances of survival in the first five years. Legions of NGO followers have held countless international conferences, puvblished heaps of glossy reports, under the mistaken intuition that such a situation – as well as proper education – just needs a minimum of sensitivity of those in authority. The reality though is quite different.

What is at issue here isn’t sensitivity of policy makers or encouraging so much more of participation in decision-making at district level or schools themselves but sustainable development. This term has often been mishandled by lobbies in favour of their own preoccupations, for instance the threat to rare frogs if hydro power projects are conceived, etc instead of what it takes to bring about all round development. If taxation and equalisation of incomes was the formula for properly organised development, Tanzania would have been a leader in Africa but it is overall productivity which counts. Tanzania has leg irons holding it back in that regard, with a systematic refusal to let the market work, its belief in state agencies holding sway in virtually all sectors, and trust that screaming at donors will fill the gap of low key capital formation locally plus low foreign direct investment levels.

This resistance to domination by foreign capital, now creeping into oil and gas by deliberate steps weakening market predictability, ensures that children are stunted owing to low purchasing power and faulty priorities in families and government. There is little promise at the moment that Tanzania can arrest all these weaknesses and correct the error of its ways as our priority isn’t children or education, anyway.