system is based on the British model, though I don't know if the
Britons still use it. Primary school starts with "Standard 1" at
about age 6 or 7. and goes through "Standard 7". They take a diversity
of subjects, including English. However, the medium of instruction
is still Swahili.
structure in all primary and secondary education is the single-class
model, where the students all stay in one class and different teachers
come in to teach them. Consequently, they all end up taking the
same courses. If there are many students in one Standard or Form,
the class is divided up into "streams"; therefore you can be in
Form 2A or 2B, but you still take the same classes, just in different
At the end of
Standard 7, the students take a lengthy National Exam, which is
administrated to all Standard 7 students at the exact same time
all over the country. One's scores on this exam form an enormous
part of one's grade for all of primary school. Your grades on this
exam, along with teacher recommendations, determine ranking and
eligibility for "Ordinary Level" (Or "O-Level") secondary school.
author and several students.
of Forms 1-4 and are roughly equivalent to Grades 8-11 of American
school. The other main difference is that the medium of instruction
is English. (I will discuss the issues surrounding this in a little
bit.) Here is where the Tz system really begins diverging from its
similarities to the US system. There are markedly fewer secondary
schools in Tanzania that there are Primary schools. For instance,
I believe there are over 35 Primary schools in Monduli district.
There are only 5 secondary schools, one of which was built last
As a result, it's
just not possible for all, or even most, Tanzanian children to advance
beyond primary school. The statistic I like to mention is that roughly
the same percentage of Tanzanians advance from Standard 7 to Form
1 as Americans who graduate from college. (~15-20%)
of the switch to English medium, many students whose English isn't
all that good end up dropping out early. For example, at my school,
each stream is about 50 students. We have three streams of Form
1, two of Form 2, two of Form 3, and only one stream of Form 4.
The attrition rate in O-Level is about 60-70%, so keep that in mind
for your figures.
At the end of
Form 4, there is another major National Examination. This examination
forms 50% of your grade for all of O-Level. The other 50% is "Continuous
Evaluation", which is the average of all your grades in all your
classes, mostly based on final exams for each class. These national
exams are also quite difficult, unlike the SATs. And while SATs
are only for college entrance in the states, these National exams
determine how you graduate from high school.
So this is what
you have to imagine: Imagine the SAT was two weeks long at the end
of your senior year, with a difficult 4-hour test on each of the
12 subjects you took in high school. And when you're done, the test
scores are 50% averaged with your GPA (which is mostly based on
your final exam from each individual class,) and the resulting number
determines what kind of Diploma you get from High School. No pressure,
the end of the line for the vast majority of O-Level students. For
those who graduate towards the top of their class, they have an
opportunity to continue on to Advanced Level (A-Level,) consisting
of Forms 5 and 6. Academically speaking, it's roughly equivalent
to America's 12th grade and first year of college (though there
are things in the A-Level Physics syllabus that I didn't learn until
sophomore or junior year of college.)
than 1% of Tz students get into A-Level; fortunately, even if they
don't end up with the best grades, most of these students finish
Form 6. Another nice thing is that they are allowed to focus their
studies to reflect their talents.
They apply to
a school that has the program they want, consisting of three focus
subjects. For instance, my school offers PCB (Physics, Chemistry,
Biology,) and HGL (History, Geography, Language,). Other schools
offer things like PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Math,) EGA (Economics,
Government, Accounting,) and so forth. Each class here (ex: Form
5 PCB) is about 20 students. In O-Level, they might have had any
one of their ten to twelve subjects for four to six 40-minute periods
a week. In A-Level, they get each of their three subjects for about
ten periods a week.
school is a part of a school that also has O-Level, but not all
O-Level schools have an A-Level program. It is fairly rare for a
student to attend O- and A-Level at the same school.
[By the way, for
reference, I am teaching A-Level Physics, both Forms 5 and 6. I
have each form for two double-periods (80 minutes) each day.]
Anyway, as you
might imagine, these kids are pretty darn sharp, and their English,
while not great, is pretty good. This is made more impressive (to
me, at least,) by the fact that many of them are trilingual at this
point (many of my A-Level kids speak Maasai at home, and didn't
learn Swahili until Primary school.) And that means being fairly
conversant in all three, not just having a little smattering. I'd
like to see even the brightest American kids compete with that.
At the end of
A-Level, there is again a major exam which constitutes half your
grade. And consequently, only a very small percentage of students
OF DAR ES SALAAM
only one general academic university in the country, in the capital,
Dar Es Salaam. In quality of resources, education, instructors,
etc., it's probably somewhere between a US community-college and
a small, city-based state university (Cleveland State University,
et al.) Even still, it's the best thing they have, and the quality
of students is certainly much higher than in most American universities.
I actually know
very little about U of Dar, so I can't really fill you in on more
details. I do know that some very few students travel outside the
country and continue their education. My host father from training,
for instance, got a Master's degree in Education from the University
of Uganda, which is supposedly quite good despite its lack of equipment.
A teacher friend of mine from Arusha is also trying to apply to
the University of California, Berkeley doctoral program in Electrical
There are some
other education options -- I'll apologize in advance because my
knowledge of these is hazy at best. If you are interested in more
details on anything, please feel free to drop me a question and
I'll be happy to ask around and fill you in.
There are a few
Technical Colleges (I think four,) here in Tanzania. For instance,
at the Technical College of Arusha, there are programs in which
one can get the equivalent of an Associate's Degree in Electrical
Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Road & Highway
Engineering, Home Repair, and I forget what else.
These are handy
for becoming a "fundi" (an all-purpose word meaning "fix-it person.)
I personally like these programs, especially because they take most
of their students from recent O-Level graduates (you don't have
to go to A-Level first.)
The downside is,
many students who graduate from these schools don't get jobs right
away, if at all. The headmaster of the TCA lamented to a group of
PC Trainees about seeing some of his former students on the streets
selling shirts or ties or something (a common source of income for
young men in their 20s.) On the positive side, many of these folks
move back home after college (which is perfectly socially acceptable
here, if you're not yet married) and augment their family's income
by becoming a "neighborhood fundi".
for O- and A-Level graduates is Teacher's Training College. In fact,
there is a TTC right here in Monduli. It's a very nice school, with
high-quality resources and good instructors (or so I hear.) The
downside is, the Tz Government put a teacher hiring freeze on the
Ministry of Education in 1996, which means the TTC has been continuing
to produce graduates who cannot possibly be hired anywhere in the
country. But every year, the TTC is at full enrollment, with people
hoping that soon the hiring freeze will be lifted and they might
stand a small chance of standing out of all the other recent graduates
and be hired.
TO BE A TEACHER
After all this
talk of education, you may well wonder what qualifies one to be
a teacher. I believe (though I may be incorrect,) that a Primary
school teacher must have an O-Level certificate; an O-Level teacher
must have gone to a TTC, and an A-Level teacher must be a university
graduate with a focus in or close to the subject they are teaching.
requirements have not always been in place. Consequently, there
are still a number of older teachers at most schools who have little
more education than their students. At my school, there are quite
a few O-Level teachers who only have O-Level certificates, etc.
PRIVATE VS. GOVERNMENT
(my school,) is a Private school. You may be saying to yourself,
"Why on earth is Peace Corps sending teachers to private schools?"
To answer that, I first invite you to throw out all you concepts
of private schools in America.
Recall what I
said above about the serious shortage of schools here. Add to that,
the following: All schools here, including government schools, have
school fees. Primary school is fairly cheap, around Tsh 1000/= per
year, (about $1.40, which for some families is tough but manageable
for most.) Government secondary schools cost around Tsh 40,000/=
(~$58) per year, plus about that amount again in bribes. This pretty
much eliminates all tribal families (though most schools offer scholarships
to a small number of very bright students.) Private Secondary schools
have a broad range of costs, depending on whether or not they are
boarding schools. Moringe is on the medium-cheap side for a boarding
school at Tsh 130,000/= (~$190) per year, which is extremely difficult
for many families.
I should point
out that the students at my school are still by no means wealthy;
about 8% of the students are on full scholarship and there are many
partial scholarships. Many families go into the poorhouse just trying
to get their kid through O-Level. Despite this high cost, my school
still had to borrow money to finish the school year last year --
just to be able to feed the students.
This is another
reason why there's such high attrition going from Form 1 to 2; some
families don't have any concept of paying for school, so their child
will go for the entire year without their paying a single shilling,
and then the school simply won't admit the student back for Form
Owing to this
huge discrepancy, you can imagine that the government schools are
high in demand... which also means they get the "first-round draft
pick". In other words, the three government schools in Monduli district
get their choice of all the best students in the area. Once the
government schools have all filled up, only then do the private
schools get their pick.
But it gets a
little trickier... Moringe's charter (written by the Lutheran Diocese,)
state that we must admit 75% of our new Form 1 students from our
own district. So Moringe, after three out of the five district schools
pick their favorites, must fill 3/4 of its space with what's left
of the local children before they fill the other quarter, usually
with people coming from Arusha where there are far fewer schools
for the number of students there. Sadly, as one might predict, it's
these students from outside of the district that do the best on
our exams, etc.
In this way it's
extremely difficult for Moringe to maintain high standards, because
it has to scrape to get quality students, but it has to fill the
school or else it won't be able to afford to operate. For example,
for the second year in a row this year, we had to lower the pass-mark
for advancing to the next form (not the pass-mark of the national
exams, but the average of the final exams for each Form at the end
of each term.) We lowered the bar for advancing into Forms 2 and
3 to a 30% average. Fortunately, we were able to keep the pass mark
at its usual 35% for the new Form 4 students.
(within Tanzanian culture,) there is an enormous push by the Ministry
of Education for girl's education. Most schools share that sentiment
of wanting to focus especially on this issue. Many classes of many
schools are almost completely polarized in terms of grades: if there
are 20 girls in a class of 50, they may well have the 20 lowest
grade averages in that class.
The problem, much
like in America, is lack of family support, and lack of role models
-- but the problem is much more serious here. Consider the example
of a typical family that is sending their son and their daughter
to a local non-boarding school. The son comes home from school and
has all the time he wants to study and relax, etc. The parents encourage
him to study strongly, so that he can succeed and one day have a
on the other hand comes home and helps cook dinner (a 3 to 4 hour
process,) milk the cow, clean the house, wash clothes, etc. Not
to mention that she's typically up about an hour earlier in the
morning to help fix her brothers' and father's breakfast.
Not to mention
the fact that many families see their daughter's education as a
bit of a waste, because she's only going to marry someone for whom
she'll stay home and cook, clean, etc. The son's education is for
his life, the daughter's education is simply for her own personal
enrichment. School is a high cost to pay for such a thing -- especially
when it pulls her out of the home, disabling her from helping with
Of course, there
is also certainly a lack of female role models in business, politics,
industry, etc. Women almost never live alone, moving directly from
their family home to their husband's home. Consequently, their income,
if any, is seldom more than a little to augment their husband's.
Similar stereotypes persist about women's income in America, though
And of course,
if a teenage girl is interested in a boy in her class, why on earth
would she show herself off as being smart -- no boy wants to date
or marry a girl who's smarter than he is! So she remains silent
and focuses her attention on courtship. (Sound sadly familiar?)
government and private schools have responded to this by establishing
a fairly high proportion of all-girls schools, many of which are
boarding schools, so the girls can study without distraction or
negative pressure. Unfortunately, they still have to convince their
parents to send them to these schools in the first place. However,
more and more parents are coming around, and giving their daughters
these better opportunities.
remains an important factor in schools' decision making, as well.
For instance, what I mentioned earlier about lowering the pass mark
for Forms 2 and 3 -- if it hadn't been lowered, the students that
would have been cut were all girls. It is quite a bit like affirmative
action; I have mixed feelings about favoritism... but it definitely
seems to be increasing the number of educated girls and hence educated
There is more
controversy and opinion on this subject than I could include in
a dozen of these emails. I'll try and briefly summarize the arguments
on both sides.
a year of French in junior high... (a language that is much more
similar to English than Swahili.) You've got a smattering of words
and grammar, but no real functional understanding. Then you get
to high school, and every single class -- biology, history, physics,
math, etc. -- is being taught in French. Not only that, but the
French is being spoken by people whose native language is English
(the same as yours.) Consequently, their French isn't all that great...
but they still can't teach you in English.
You don't speak
French at home. You don't speak French with your friends. Heck,
your French-speaking teachers don't even speak French to each other
except in an official capacity. And yet -- you are supposed to learn
all this information in French, and you'll eventually be tested
in that language.
That's the situation
these Swahili-speaking children face in these English-medium schools.
On the other hand,
almost all jobs which make any amount of money in Tanzania require
some amount of English, and all jobs which make good money require
quite a bit. I take Arusha as an example: White people (most of
whom speak English, even if they're not British/American,) come
in to town, and want to go on safaris, ride buses & taxis, eat at
restaurants, stay at hotels, buy lots of souvenirs, even do big
business... much of the money that flows into and around the country
comes from English-speaking people. It therefore behooves the government
on a grand economic scale to have their population be English-friendly
-- and it helps the individual English speaker get a job as well.
As a result, even
if students never learn any biology, chemistry, history, etc., maybe
school will have served a latent function of teaching them enough
English to get a job with a safari company, or waiting tables at
a restaurant or hotel (Some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs
you can get with only and O-Level education.) I once met an A-Level
graduate who couldn't even find work in his own home town, so he
came to Arusha to be a cab driver, the only job he could find there.
is a country which is very dependent on foreign assistance. There
are about 90 Peace Corps Volunteers in Tanzania at nearly, about
55 of whom are teachers at over 40 schools. There are also volunteers
from the British Volunteer Service Organization, various American
churches, Canadian Academic Council, etc., etc. How significantly
would the number of English-speaking volunteers drop if the government
switched to Swahili medium?
also donate a sizable number of books and other resources. While
there's a decent amount of literature in Swahili, there are almost
no math, science, or even history textbooks written in Swahili.
They're all in English. Even if someone were to come out with some,
schools would have to pay to restock their libraries, and familiarize
their teachers with these texts.
After all, even
though they don't speak English that well, teachers have likely
never used the Swahili word for "isotope", "kinematics", or "zygote",
if such words even exist in Swahili. Then, if the students advance,
they won't be able to read any new information on the research of
their subject if it's not translated for them; very few biologists,
chemists, physicists, etc., are going to be publishing in Swahili,
a language that is pretty much only widely spoken in one* poor African
country, Tanzania. If they want to publish anything themselves,
they'll have to learn English (or French, or another language,)
so that anyone will bother to read it.
* More people
speak English in Kenya than speak Swahili, and their Swahili is
very crude, at that. In Uganda, more people speak their own tribal
language (of which there are thousands,) and have taken to using
English as their common tongue.
THE FORM FOUR
I alliterate here
a situation that would be comical if it didn't adversely affect
so many people and bring so much shame to the country....
Because of the
incredible importance of the National Examinations, there is a great
advantage to being able to learn the exam questions before
the exam. Hence, the children of people who have access to the exam
before the test dates seem to do remarkably well on these exams.
It's common knowledge
every year that Ministry of Education workers and others leak the
exams early to their families, who leak them to their friends, etc.
And of course, the underpaid teachers at the individual schools
get their hands on the exams and sell them to the students. And
after years of this being the case, even well-meaning teachers will
give their students early information just to put their cared-for
students on an equal footing with "everyone else" that got the leaked
Well, this year
it came to a bit of a head. The exams, which typically take place
in the first few weeks of November, were about halfway completed,
when the Ministry of Education announced that due to excessive leaking
of exams, the November exams would be nullified, and new exams would
have to be written and administered under tighter supervision.
Their other mandate
was that the Form 4 students actually stay at the schools (if they
were boarding schools,) until the new exams came out -- during their
normal vacation time. The date for the new exams was Jan 15-28.
This meant keeping students almost two months longer. While the
ministry provided the government schools with money to stay open,
private schools like mine had to send their kids home, and ask them
to travel back here in January with enough money in hand to feed
them for those two weeks.
So as a result,
kids in government schools didn't go home for Christmas or New Year's.
Their teachers didn't get their normal vacation -- officially. Most
of them took it anyway, meaning the students were sitting around,
not being taught, etc. At schools like mine, the students had no
classes for two months, and then had to come back an take the exams
twist: I did not mention above one difference between O- and A-Levels.
While O-Level is on a calendar school year (Jan-Nov), A-Level is
on a more American-European school year (Aug-May). This is to allow
for the huge amount of time required to grade the Form 4 exams,
so that schools can look at the exams scores an make admissions
decisions (even *we* take the SAT in our late junior or early senior
year of High School.)
Now the exams
were in January instead of November. The numbers might just be in
time for schools to make very quick, rushed decisions for new Form
5 admissions -- but there's a more subtle problem: Many private
schools (including mine,) have a practice of admitting Form 5 students
who have passed many, but not all parts of the Form 4 exams. (i.e.,
a PCB student who did not pass the Form 4 History exam.) They are
admitted on the condition that they re-seat for the exam (which
they must return to their O-Level schools to do,) because the law
says you must have passed all parts of the Form 4 exam to even qualify
to sit for the Form 6 exam.
So the first problem
-- the exams ended a couple of weeks ago, but many of my Form 5
kids are still traveling from their O-Level schools to get here.
Before this whole mess, the original starting date for the school
to open was January 15th. The exams were held starting about then,
for two weeks, and then traveling... consequently, these kids will
start classes on February 8th. That's a lot of time to carve out
of the school year.
But that's not
the worst -- I have a good handful of Form 6 kids who as of yet
have not passed all of the Form 4 exams, and just retook them two
weeks ago. Their grades for these exams may well not be ready by
the time the Form 6 exams come in May, and hence they may not be
permitted even to take the Form 6 exams, which they don't have the
option of retaking next year.
The Ministry is
in no rush to get those exams graded earlier, since students not
really supposed to be retaking exams during their next level of
school in the first place... and so this could pretty much mean
that the last year and a half of A-Level -- all the time and money
spent -- could be completely nullified. As you might imagine, this
doesn't do wonders for Form 6 morale, and injects quite a bit of
nihilism into their studies.
I've got my work
cut out for me.