dirty rag

International - "I Go... Eating Beans... Now."- Ethan Field


The Tanzanian 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.

The classroom 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 rooms.

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.


The author and several students.

O-Level consists 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 year.

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%)

Also, because 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, right?


Again, that's 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.)

Slightly less 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.

Every A-Level 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 advance to...


There's really 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 Engineering.

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".


Another option 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.


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.

However, these 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.


Moringe Sokoine (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 2.

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.


Interestingly (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 good job.

The daughter, 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 chores.

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 less polarized.

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?)

Fortunately, both 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.

Girls' education 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 women.


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.

Imagine taking 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.

Also, Tanzania 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?

Those organizations 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.


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 exams.

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 completely dry.

Another interesting 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.