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They are going to school, but are they actually learning?

HakiElimu, one of’s partners, recently released an important report about the quality of education in Tanzania to stimulate a national discussion about the challenges facing the education sector. Media coverage in Dar es Salaam indicates the report has already made an impression and is prompting the government to act.

For too long, success in the education sector has been defined by the number of schools and classrooms built and by the increase in student enrollment - measures that don't necessarily register learning. But the conversation is now shifting: "quality" has become more front and center, forcing governments and development agencies to re-evaluate their policies.

It’s hard to address the “quality” issue without knowing what children can and cannot do. Part of HakiElimu’s report captures a “snapshot of the quality of education actually provided in schools by presenting the results of short tests administered to children in primary and secondary schools.” The sample pool is small, but the findings are interesting indicators of what may be happening in much of the country. Here are two of the findings that I found most powerful and alarming:

  • One of the tests was a short dictation in both Kiswahili, the national language, and English (a total of 483 primary school students and 559 secondary school students were tested). While students scored higher on the Kiswahili dictations, HakiElimu found it “concerning that 25% of primary pupils’ Kiswahili dictations were rated “poor.” Pupils who took this test had completed six years’ of schooling in Kiswahili and yet one in four were unable to write a coherent paragraph as dictated in the national language. In the dictations, students in both primary and secondary schools made fundamental errors in punctuation, giving researchers the impression that these things are not taught in schools. Children were often using the improper case for letters. Similarly, many did not appear to have a sense of spacing between words, or between letters in the word and between sentences. Knowledge of punctuation was also limited” (page 29)
The next point is equally alarming: Primary school students are taught in Kiswahili while in secondary schools the language of instruction is in English. As the report indicates, this is problematic.

  • “Overall, data show that while children’s Kiswahili language competencies are generally well developed, English language competencies are poorly developed in both primary and secondary school students. Students had difficulty in reading, writing and translating the language. This is particularly troublesome in case of secondary school students. On entering secondary schools, children not only have to relearn all the terms and concepts in a new language but also to take on a more difficult set of subjects. If the majority of the students in secondary schools are unable to read and understand the language in which they are taught, as our data show, it is difficult to see how their learning can be enhanced. (page 33)

My colleagues and I often say “you can’t fix what you can’t see.” This report helps to highlight to communities, organizations and the government that while money might be spent on education, there are still significant gaps in learning outcomes. More information and data about these outcomes help create the metrics, so action can be taken to fix these gaps. We are proud of HakiElimu's work and their commitment to ensuring that citizens and government know more about the quality of education in Tanzania. We believe that the information and the discussions it is sparking in Tanzania are important first steps toward improving the educational system.

Juliette Gimon, Program Manager,

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