A Challenge with Education in Tanzania

December 21, 2010 8:18 am Published by

When we first opened the school a year ago, I thought we were in way over our heads. The behavior of the students definitely left something to be desired, but I was much more concerned about our teachers. The students, I knew, would eventually come around. Before we opened school, we had led a 2-week staff development to try to get everyone on the same page. We covered tons of topics, from individualizing lesson plans, to group work, to overall school structure. We all left excited and I was hopeful for the weeks ahead.

Hopefulness ended day one when I realized very little of what we had covered in staff development actually sank in. All of the teachers had reverted back to their ‘stand only at the board, the student is always wrong’ mentality, having not a care in the world about the learning that needed to take place. I felt a little stupid for being so hopeful, having fully known this is how education is viewed across the country.

We took the next several months taking the approach of working with each teacher individually, giving periodical evaluations which only had one, maybe two suggestions at a time. Slowly, the feel of the classroom and the school started to change, and to date, our teachers are much more eager to experiment with different methodologies. We still have a long ways to go, but we are extremely happy with the progress thus far.

I bring all of this up not to praise ourselves for the progress we’ve had, but to try to help paint a picture of one of the main challenges facing the entire Tanzanian education system- teacher education and training. Sure, there are not enough teachers in Tanzania in general, but I believe the greater question is “are the teachers we do have good teachers?’ I think so many people, especially ones in administrative positions like myself, focus on numbers and forget some of these greater qualitative questions. We could have a 1:1 teacher-student ratio across the country and still not raise the standard of education because the teachers are not adequately trained. Don’t misunderstand me either. I do not believe there are enough teachers currently in Tanzania. I am merely talking about our focus and where it should be as we look at the bigger picture and talk about scalability, both of JBFC and on a more macro level.

You may be asking yourself- what is the answer to this complex question? What needs to be done? And, I am not going to answer that yet, as this is a solution we are still trying to work out ourselves. It is a complex issue, dealing with systematically changing a long-standing behavior structure, and it must be worked with slowly, which is exactly what we are doing in our little corner of the world.

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This post was written by Mainsprings