As you read this a small delegation of MPs are visiting Tanzania accompanied by RESULTS staff.  During the next few days we will write a couple of blogs highlighting some of the issues we have been discussing. Here Steve Lewis notes some of the first learnings we have had visiting education and early childhood development projects.

“Children should be in school and learning”. This is the simple goal of one of the education NGOs working in Tanzania, and it seems so straightforward. Yet this goal sums up one of the main contradictions of the education system here over the last ten years. Children are now in school, yes, far more of them than a decade ago. But are they all learning?   Sadly the answer is no.

IMG_0089In 2001 the government of Tanzania declared that primary education should be free and open to all. This was a brave undertaking for a country that is still among the poorest in Africa. Since then there has been significant progress. Enrolment is now up to 94% and the ratio of girls and boys is now almost equal, a great accomplishment. Government figures show that the budget devoted to education has increased six-fold.  All good indicators of progress.

And yet the results have been disappointing in terms of children actually learning.  Only one third of children go on from primary to secondary, and tens of thousands drop out long before that. All stakeholders, from government to civil society, agree that as the enrolment increased rapidly and substantially, the quality of teaching and learning fell.  Exam results in 2013 were worse than in other recent years, and in fact were so poor it produced a national debate and the government set up a national commission of enquiry.

Our delegation has been visiting a variety of projects ranging from Madrassa pre-schools to teacher training colleges to learning centres for street children. The reasons for the poor learning outcomes found in Tanzania are many, and complex. Some are clear – this is a very poor country and the state can not afford to recruit enough teachers or pay them a sufficient salary. Many teachers are demotivated, and many are especially reluctant to serve in remote rural areas without electricity or facilities. Parents too lack commitment in some cases, which is not surprising given than 34 million people live on less than £20 a month, and of these 15 million people have to survive on a budget of less than £7 a month. Not surprising that sending their child to school (and possibly buying uniform or books) is unaffordable.

IMG_0047Other reasons are less clear, and some are contested. Some NGOs query the budget spent on education – pointing out that the pupil-teacher ratio is now 50 to 1 – worse than in 2001. We have not been here long enough to know the full story.

We have seen some encouraging schools and others that leave much to be desired. Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion was very impressed by Madrassa pre-schools, where 60 children divided into small groups were learning in an atmosphere of  confidence. “It was especially good to see the engagement of the community”, said Mark, “I was struck by the emphasis on learning through play and reflective learning”. On the other hand we saw a ‘normal’ state primary school, very large, with dilapidated buildings and classrooms of up to 70 children sitting on the floor, with very few books or resources of any sort to be seen.

Our last visit yesterday was to Dogodogo street childrens centre. Cathy Jamieson, MP for Kilmarnock, found it poignant talking to some of the children about  their hopes for the future. “What do you want to be when you’re older ? – An engineer… a doctor…” Worthy ambitions but sadly unlikely to be realised for children living a life on the streets.  In fact, said Anna, a social worker at the centre, “we try to provide these children with nourishing food, and hope they can learn to read and settle down. But growing up in Tanzania, without a family around you, is a harsh challenge”.

Tomorrow we will learn more about the importance of nutrition for young children here, and how that impacts on educational success later in life.