Explanatory Note: This is an edited version of an article I wrote for the student magazine published at the National Institute of Transport. It appeared in 1980 under the pseudonym A Correspondent. (Hirji 1980). It is included here because it provides further insight into the state of higher education in Tanzania in the 1970s.

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NEWSPAPERS ARE LIKE THE TIP OF AN ICEBERG. What they reveal is only a small fraction of what there is. And that too may not be in a proper perspective. But if they are anything to go by, they indicate that many places of learning in Tanzania today are in a state of crisis.

The Daily News of 29 August 1979 reported that around 1,000 students of the Dar es Salaam Technical College had marched the day before to the office of the Ilala District Party Secretary to present complaints about intolerable conditions at the college. To quote the report:

The students’ complaints included allegations of food shortage, bad food, bad accommodation, academic problems, bad services and bad leadership at the school.

On 16 August of last year, the same paper had carried a story about a scandal at the National Institute of Transport. A large number of students who had been told to resit their examination had actually passed in the first place. Thirty students were asked to supplement when only eight should have done it. Attributing this to administrative negligence, the report went on as follows:

Among the many complaints students listed included shortage of books, science laboratory, minimal practical training and general lack of organization.

Recently, eight students of the Nyegezi Social Training Center were expelled for leading a protest against one of the lecturers. Eighteen other students were issued with warning letters for boycotting the classes of the lecturer who, they claimed, was not competent (Daily News, 16 November 979). Just a few months age there were reports of serious disturbances at the Mtwara Technical School when students went on rampage, stoning teachers’ houses.

Besides expulsions and suspensions, absenteeism also prevails in schools and colleges. Even mass punishments are heard about. In some secondary schools, students get severe thrashings. For example, a Radio Tanzania broadcast on 22 October 1979 mentioned the case of three pupils of the Ifunda Technical School who had been hospitalized after being caned at school.

Many examples can be cited but the above suffice to raise serious questions regarding the situation in our educational establishments. Schools and colleges are being transformed from a battle-field of ideas into an arena of chaos. What is the cause? Students, teachers, parents, administrators — indeed all concerned with social progress — need to tackle these issues with seriousness they deserve.


The interaction between teachers and students is the core of the education process. Any tension or hitches in this relationship will reverberate throughout the entire system. What is the nature of this interaction these days?

Learning has to be cooperative endeavor between teachers and students. Now it has become like a competitive tug of war. Both groups are pitted against each other in a condition which is not favorable for appropriate education to take place. Both are victims of circumstances beyond their control. The students see the teachers as just interested in dumping a mass of complex material on them. So they struggle, by means foul or fair, to score a grade, which will enable them to get the coveted certificate or diploma on which their future depends.

Under the guise of removing excessive reliance upon examinations a new system called continuous assessment has been introduced in schools and institutions of higher learning (IHL). It is supposed to be a progressive system as compared to the inherited British system of assessing someone’s ability and knowledge through end of the year three hour memory testing exercises. But this system has only recreated in a continuous form miniature exercises in the same old fashion. Emphasis is a still on examinations, the difference being that instead of once a year, you have them once a month or once a week. This has become a nightmare for both the students and the teacher alike. Only administrators, with their preference for methodical drabness, draw satisfaction from the mass of reports filled in. The students are justified in calling it a system of continuous harassment.

Education becomes an assembly line process, tailored to produce standardized robots. Creativity is being banished to a dark corner. Any flexibility in teaching or evaluation is viewed with horror as leading to lowering of standards. Emphasis is on weekly tests with multiple choice questions to facilitate marking. The talk is of combination of theory with practice. The snag is that either the theory is impractical or the practice is just a formal one.

While students are supposed to undertake project work, teachers lack experience to guide them well. The students are besieged with so many tasks that they hardly have time to think about and digest anything well, let alone engage in creative work which projects demand. They just memorize current topics only to forget them as soon as they have got the required units. Project reports turn out to be an odd assortment of data gathered from here and there interspersed with diffuse ideas from textbooks. For the teacher the system has become a spine wreaking burden he or she has to bear day by day and from year to year.

Schools and colleges had shortages of teachers before continuous evaluation was introduced. The teachers were already overburdened. Now their load has increased to an extent that their life has come to resemble that of the fully jammed UDA buses which groan as they crawl along the road, sagging completely on one side and liable to breakdown at any time. Teachers are similarly occupied all the time correcting a pile of papers and filling in progress reports. Given the trends, one can forecast that in future, teachers will be spending more time filling forms and reports than preparing lessons.

Many teachers supported the new system at its inception, unaware of what lay in store for them. Now that it is here to stay, they respond by not completing the syllabus, superficially carrying out the assessments, and in some cases, manufacturing the marks. The purpose of continuous evaluation is to ensure that the students’ heads are immersed in books and the teachers are on their toes all the time. But whether a better education is being imparted is something which is yet to be established.

The syllabuses of various subjects being taught at schools and colleges give the impression that we are aiming to set exalted standards for the whole universe to emulate. They contain topics too difficult for the level at which they are taught and in any case, there are too many topics per subject. A teacher who wishes to complete them has to rush through it like a hurricane. In setting the syllabus, the officials tend to include what they found from an advanced course here or abroad, or whatever their learned professor had lectured them about. It is not uncommon to see teachers issuing to students the same handouts and books they got at the university.

Part of the problem is the high turnover in the teaching profession. Most local teachers are inexperienced ones, fresh from college or university. After a few years of teaching they seek other jobs which are better rewarded and more satisfying. There are only a few experienced and qualified local teachers who take their work seriously and stick to their profession. Consequently there is the ongoing reliance on expatriates. But these are here today and away tomorrow. One cannot expect long term improvements by relying on transient elements. Besides, many of them tend to be timid yes-men, who, in the hope of renewing their contracts, will just follow, perhaps conscientiously, the system as it is rather than struggle for a better one.

Moreover, teachers and students have to work in the face of numerous material constraints. Books and stationery are in short supply. And so are typing and duplicating facilities. Orders are misplaced or delayed; suppliers are not paid in time, etc. Priorities are reversed. An air conditioner for the main office is more important than a duplicating machine, teachers handouts are set aside when office correspondence has to be typed, etc.

In spite of the high standards set (or may be because of them) the quality of the students emerging from the education system from the schools to the university is nothing one can boast about. In places, when faced with the projects of mass failures, the teachers become lenient and simply pass everyone. This means that at the next stage of the educational ladder, the students will have to be taught what they are already supposed to have mastered.

This state of affairs causes frustration among students and teachers alike. The dissatisfaction of the students spills over into other areas and causes the type of disturbances we hear about now and again. The academic drudgery they are subjected to is reflected in the fury with which they react.


Teacher and students are the two major pillars of education. The workers and administrators are employed to assist the learning process. The situation in many places of learning gives the impression that the teachers, students and workers are there to serve the administrators. The resources and facilities in education are prioritized for the convenience of the administrators.

Some examples have been cited above. Take the utilization of vehicles. Many IHLs have one or more vehicles sat their disposal; some have a whole fleet of cars, vans, lorries and buses. If one investigates their usage, all sorts of revelations emerge as vehicle meant for academic usage are diverted for other purposes. A van may be bought for research but the sole research it may end up doing is around brothels on Saturday nights.

If it is a question of getting a vehicle for collecting external tutors, sending students on field trips, sending teachers to supervise students’ projects etc., none seems to be available. It takes a major effort to procure a vehicle. But if it is a question of sending the principal’s wife for shopping or a bag of cement to the bursar’s house, there is no problem. There is a clear inversion of priorities. In some cases college vehicles are found near the bars at night, being used for private business purposes. Such practices contribute towards the mounting grievances in these institutions.

The general services provided to the students and teachers also tend to be poor. In many cases it is due to lack of organization and sheer neglect by the authorities. Class rooms lack simple things as dusters and teachers have to bring their own rags to clean the blackboard. The purchase of supplies for schools and institutes is riddled with scandals. Food is bought at inflated price and someone pockets the difference. The same story prevails in the purchase of books, stationery, laboratory and workshop equipment. Most schools and some IHLs have a shortage of funds. But instead of trying to make the best of it, a few individuals try to make the most of it. Students end up eating rotten beans and maize purchased at high prices and when they complain they are told it is a national problem.

Favoritism is also rampant in these places. Be it the question of recruiting students, employing cleaners or promoting teachers, the role of ndugunization is critical. Students know about their fellows who are there not through their know-how but know-who. Teachers are not surprised when one of them rises fast up the ladder without any achievements to his credit. There is favoritism in giving scholarships. Many IHLs get scholarships from international organizations for the purpose of training their teaching staff but members of the administration often are the first ones to taste the cake. The teachers get left over after the bosses have taken their share.

In many places, the administration lacks the necessary foresight and competence to run the places well and plan its long-term development. Shortsightedness and narrow horizons govern their decision making which in most cases is done on a day to day basis. Instead of emphasizing academic excellence, they stress loyalty. Many fear to recruit qualified and competent local staff in the fear of being replaced or exposed. Local staff are frustrated through insufficient incentives, lack of fringe benefits and facilities, and too strict a promotion policy. Some administrators prefer expatriates or local staff with dubious qualification who are content with being their yes-men.

Administrators tend to run their colleges or institutes like primary schools, with emphasis on petty issues. They want to exercise a strict control on everything that goes on. Some go to the dining hall at meal times to ensure that the students do not get more than the specified share. They emphasize attendance, obedience, and punctuality, and are very strict towards any student who show any signs of violating the rules. In some IHLs teachers are required to report on duty at 8:00 in the morning daily and be on the premises for the entire working time irrespective of whether they have classes to teach or not. A teacher is turned into an office clerk. His efficiency inevitably declines because of the lack of flexibility which his work demands.


Bookish drudgery makes students less involved in extracurricular activities. This also affects their outlook and awareness. Participation in sports, students clubs, discussion groups, student organization affairs, and student magazines becomes restricted as most students are permanently buried under an avalanche of tests and assignments. These activities are an important a component of education. The aim of education is not to produce stunted robots. Without such activities, the outlook of the students will be shallow and careerist and they will be unable to play their full role in social development.

A sound education must be based on democratic foundations. The old fashioned bureaucrat who dismisses students as an unruly lot has no place in the modern education system. The lack of participation of students in decision making is one of the fundamental causes of the present crisis in the system. Even teachers often have little say in what goes on in their places.

Absence of participation and control from below enables some individuals in key positions to take advantage of existing problems and magnify them into gigantic ones. Numerous wanton practices proliferate when bureaucracy has the upper hand and lead to mounting frustrations among students, teachers and workers. To prevent such explosions and to improve the situation in schools and institutes there is a need to strengthen participatory democracy, institute grass-root control and promote freedom of information.


The long term solution to the existing impasse in education is to organize the system on a firm democratic footing. With the involvement of all parties, solutions to different specific problems can be worked out. Participation of the students in decision making relating to the affairs of the school or college community is crucial.

The present situation of academic drudgery for students and over work for the teachers must be remedied, and a more rational system of learning and evaluation has to be worked out.

There is a need for an independent and democratic student organization through which the students will channel their contributions. The recent announcement of the establishment of National Union of Students is a welcome one. But it should not be loaded with bureaucratic controls that would turn it into a student organ in name only. And the students need to elect their leaders with care. Some student leaders are only interested in prestige and running bars, and do not look after the interests of their constituents. Students should elect committed and bold leaders who exhibit a deep understanding of the society in which they live.

In a similar fashion there is need for a National Union of Teachers with branches at all the places of learning. It should be a democratic, autonomous organization which would promote the interests of the teaching profession and higher academic standards. It should work to attract and retain competent and committed teachers by struggling for the improvements of the terms and conditions of work for teachers.

And there is a need to promote freedom of ideas through free flow of information and discussion. All members of the school or college community should have a right of access to information regarding the affairs of the school or the college. The present bureaucratic system of locking up even the pettiest detail leads to small problems being undetected or dealt with until they assume mammoth proportions. Students and teachers, through their elected representatives, must be informed about all community affairs and how the community resources and finance are used. In case of misuse, they must be empowered to take appropriate measures.

In order to promote debate through which different problems can be discussed and resolved, students and teachers must establish their own magazines, journals or newsletters to voice their opinions on academic, institutional and national issues.

The problems of the educational system cannot be solved without the participation of the students and the teachers. The reforms suggested here intended to ensure that this participation occurs on a free and democratic basis.

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Comment: From the above article we see that in the 1970s, the Tanzanian higher education system was beset with a myriad of major problems. Nonetheless, the quality of education imparted in those days was superior compared with what prevails in our colleges and universities today. The typical graduate of that era had a reasonably good command, in theory and practice, of his discipline. In contrast, most current graduates display a shallow and confused understanding of even the subjects in which they obtained a high grade.


The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher Copyright © 2018 by Karim Hirji. All Rights Reserved.

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