“Someone is shortchanging our children. We must refuse to put up with it.”

Tanzania Daima described it as “a national disaster“. Illiteracy haunts public school pupils,” was the Daily News headline. The Citizen wrote of “literacy shame” and “primary education in a mess“.

They are talking about the latest set of Uwezo results, which came out this week for Tanzania, and a week earlier for Uganda. For those who are unfamiliar, Uwezo is a large annual survey of primary school-age children in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, asking them to complete short tests in English, Swahili and numeracy, based on Standard 2 curriculum. The idea is to see whether children are actually learning in school, rather than simply whether they are attending school. The latest reports are for surveys carried out in 2012, and the results are not good.

From The Citizen:

“Children aged between seven and 16 across the country are barely learning. We boast a high primary school enrolment rate, with over 95 per cent Tanzanian children of school-going age in Standard One. But a cynic will be forgiven for retorting: So what?”

“Sadly, they might be in school, but the education they are receiving is of doubtful quality. It is time for a reality check. This means addressing the quality of our education all the way from the grassroots. The shoddy performance of many of our college graduates can be traced back to the mess at lower levels.”

It’s hard to disagree with the news reports. The full report for Tanzania is packed full of information, almost none of which is positive:

  • Only one in four children in Standard 3 can read a Standard 2 story in Kiswahili.
  • Four out of ten children in Standard 3 are able to do multiplication at Standard 2 level.
  • Less than one out of ten children in Standard 3 can read a Standard 2 level English story.
  • Between 2011 and 2012 there was no rise in the pass rate in Kiswahili and English tests for children in Standard 3 and above.

On the face of it, there are just two bits of good news in the report. The first comes in numeracy, where the percentage of children in Standard 3 and above who passed the numeracy test rose from 66% in 2011 to 73% in 2012. And second, there was an apparent increase in the number of government primary schools achieving over 90% attendance rates – from around 18% in 2011 to 35% in 2012. There is a third as well, though it is not immediately obvious, which I will come to in a moment.

But first, for me, the most interesting thing in the report is the differences it reveals. “When it comes to education, Tanzania is not one nation,” said Zaida Mgalla, Uwezo’s Country Coordinator for Tanzania. Let’s take a look:

1. Geographical differences

This chart shows the pass rate for Swahili tests in each region of the country. The results are not great anywhere, but compare Dar es Salaam, where seven out of ten passed the tests, to Mara, where just one in four passed:

Pass rate for Swahili tests, by region - Uwezo 2012

Pass rate for Swahili tests, by region – Uwezo 2012

This map shows scores for the top five and bottom five districts, across all three subjects. First, it shows the wide variation between different parts of the country. And second, it shows how much better children in urban districts performed than those in rural districts:

Top and bottom five districts - Uwezo Tanzania 2012

Top and bottom five districts – Uwezo Tanzania 2012

2. Socio-economic differences

Children at private schools scored much better than those at government schools – they are roughly two and half years ahead:

Pass rates for children at private and public schools (or at no school) - Uwezo 2012

Pass rates for children at private and public schools (or at no school) – Uwezo 2012

And children from the poorest households (defined by ownership of assets) performed noticeably worse than those from wealthier households:

Pass rates by age and household wealth - Uwezo 2012

Pass rates by age and household wealth – Uwezo 2012

Or as Zaida puts it: “we are a society of two classes; the privileged with more wealth or in urban areas or who can afford private schooling do much better than most people.”

Drawing some conclusions

There are two obvious conclusions here: that government schools are failing Tanzanian children, and that the education system (as part of a wider problem) is entrenching divisions in Tanzanian society.

But I said there was a third bit of good news. It is this: that amid all the failure, there are pockets of relative success. I don’t mean the urban districts and private schools that are outperforming the majority. I mean a handful of rural districts that are doing better than others in similar situations. Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Arusha Rural (Arumeru) ranks 7th overall (2nd in numeracy, 4th in English), compared to neighbouring Monduli (81st), and Longido (72nd).
  • All the rural districts of Kilimanjaro Region do relatively well: Mwanga ranks 11th, Hai 15th, Rombo 18th (and 3rd for numeracy), Moshi Rural 22nd, Siha 23rd and Same 28th.
  • In other regions, there are big differences between neighbouring districts. In Tabora, Sikonge (58th) performs much better than Urambo (119th). And in Mbeya, Kyela (39th) and Ileje (43rd) do much better than Mbozi (112th).

This is good news for a simple reason: by identifying successes we can learn from them, and those who are performing less well can find ways of improving. What’s being done well in Kilimanjaro and Arumeru? What can Urambo and Mbozi learn from Sikonge, Kyela and Ileje?

“Someone is shortchanging our children. We must refuse to put up with it,” said The Citizen. Tanzania Daima called it a national disaster, and Dr Bana of UDSM was quoted in the Daily News as saying this “should be a wake up call.” They’re all correct.

But this report is more than that. It’s also an opportunity to learn, and to kick start some improvements.

4 thoughts on ““Someone is shortchanging our children. We must refuse to put up with it.”

  1. eric

    what makes Arumeru do so well is a good question. I propose Uwezo then do a case study of some of these higlights. QCA (qualitative comparative analysis) would be a good tool to use

  2. Alice

    Maybe Arumeru is doing so well because it is only partly a rural district? Its vicinity with Arusha could be part of the explanation about its outstanding scores.

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