No one gets rich teaching
But one lives a richer life
Unknown Author

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TEACHING HAS BEEN A VERITABLE LOVE OF MY LIFE. I joined this noble profession in April 1971, and officially ceased my ingrained routine of facing the blackboard in July 2012. During this period of slightly over four decades, I taught mathematics and statistics, first in a university mathematics department, then in a transport related educational institute, and finally, and for the most part, in university level public health and medical departments.

My teaching career fell into two phases: The first phase started in April 1971 when I was hired as a tutorial assistant (TA) at the Department of Mathematics of the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM). A year later, I became an Assistant Lecturer. In March 1974, this promising line of work terminated abruptly. Through political machinations of the university administration, I was sent to a remote region of Tanzania. From lecturing linear algebra, I was transformed into a paper shuffling mid-level bureaucrat. My job title was Planning Officer. But planning for development was the least of what I did.

Fortunately, I was able to return to teaching a year and a half later when in October 1975 I was hired by the just founded National Institute of Transport (NIT) in Dar es Salaam as an Instructor in Transport Statistics. Because it was the first institution of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, I faced challenges of the type I had never dreamed I would face. For five years, I immersed myself into this job. My colleagues and I faced numerous hurdles, practical, academic and societal. Some seemed insurmountable. Yet, by the end of 1980, a fully functional institute conferring certificates and diplomas reflecting a high academic standard in varied areas related to transportation was in operation.

At the end of 1980, I left NIT to study at Harvard University in the USA. My aim was a doctoral degree in Biostatistics. That was my entry into the second phase of my teaching career that was to last three decades. I worked in the health and bio-medical arena, teaching theory based and applied subjects related to medical research methods at universities in USA, Tanzania and Norway. I also conducted research in a specialized area of Biostatistics and took part in research projects on a variety of health issues. This research frequently led to publishing papers in statistical and medical journals, and writing a book and book chapters.

While the two phases have a unifying theme, they are distinct in terms of substance, style, audience and societal import. The focus of this book is on the first phase, that is, on the first decade of my work as a teacher. The pedagogic essence, episodes, societal context and outcomes of this phase are sufficiently extensive to justify a book of its own. The second phase will be presented in a forthcoming work.


This book takes off from my two previous memoirs. In Growing Up With Tanzania: Memory, Math and Musings, I covered my childhood and schooling until I was ready to join the university. In Cheche: Reminiscences of a Radical Magazine, my comrades and I wrote on aspects of student life at UDSM. From here on I refer to these books as GUWTZ and Cheche, respectively. They show some aspects of my teaching life but in a limited manner. Here I present the full picture.

This book is not just about teaching. A teacher is also a human encumbered with the complexities, pleasures and impediments that come with life. They affect his work, attitude and relations with his students, fellow teachers and other people. Accordingly, at numerous time points in this narrative, I am drawn to reflect on the ongoing currents flowing in my personal and social lives.

But that is not it. What teachers teach and how they do it is affected in a significant manner by the broader social and economic context, by history, by the political trends of the day, and by the position of the teaching profession in the social order. In deference to this sociological reality, I devote due space to relevant contextual factors and events surrounding my teaching life. Two chapters deal entirely with two separate, barely week-long episodes that occurred at the place I was teaching. They were connected to academics but their significance transcended the lecture room. I also devote a chapter to my deeds during the time I was banished from teaching.

I consider myself a social activist and a teacher. To me, these roles complement each other. Activism does not necessarily distract a person from doing his or her job, or doing it well. If pursued in a diligent and ethical manner, it on the contrary enhances academic effectiveness and enriches one’s relationships with colleagues and students. That is what I experienced throughout my teaching career. Thus, in this book, I integrate the basic elements and actualities of my activism where it is appropriate. I adhere to the maxim that primarily, a teacher is a social being, with weighty social responsibilities.


 I was not drawn into teaching overnight. It was a process that unfolded over time. My first contact with a teacher was a disastrous one. Teaching in a harsh way, she punished her students painfully for the slightest error. However, from then on, I had the good fortune of encountering a series of magnificent teachers (see GUWTZ.) They in a way drew me into their profession. Because I excelled in mathematics, I began tutoring fellow students in an informal manner from an early age. I thereby deem it fitting to begin this book with a chapter on the voluntary type of teaching work I have done over the years. Starting with tutoring schoolmates, it is one of the few places in this book where I venture into the second phase of my teaching life. After this, I delve into the three years of teacher training, at theoretical and practical levels, I received at UDSM.

The next four chapters cover my time at UDSM, first as a tutorial assistant and then, an assistant lecturer. Next comes a chapter on my eighteen months as a do-nothing bureaucrat in rural Tanzania. It is followed up by my involvement in the task of setting up an educational institution from scratch and teaching there. Chapter 9 compares the state of university level teaching today with that in early years. Then, after giving the main tenets of good teaching I have distilled from my personal experience, I end with an atypical of experience with which I ended my teaching career.

Appendices A, B and C expand on the material contained in Chapter 5 and Chapter 8. Appendix D has photos related to the events described in the book.


While our memory has valuable characteristics, it also has major drawbacks. It is eminently fragile, capable not just of forgetting key life events, but also of distorting them to an unrecognized extent. Often, it invents events that never occurred. It is thereby foolhardy to write a work like this based on memory alone. Luckily I have preserved a large bank of personal and general documents about places, people and general situation related to what I write on. At critical junctions, I maintained a diary of happenings of the day. All these have supplemented my memory.

In addition, I found documents from that era which helped me fill in the gaps in my own material. Importantly, I contacted friends and colleagues from those days, some I had not connected with for ages. I detail my contacts, sources and other material in the Acknowledgments section at the back of this book. Adopting a conversational style in a memoir enhances its readability and appeal. Yet exact conversations are hard to recall. The conversations in this book reflect, as accurately as I can make it, the essence of what went on. Finally, note that the spelling in this book follows US English.

Karim F Hirji
February 2018


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

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