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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 16:37 GMT
Chaos as Tanzania provides free schooling
Children at Yombo Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Schools are running classes under trees
By Christine Otieno in Dar es Salaam

Tanzania's plans for free education for primary school students has hit a snag.

They should have built classrooms and arranged for extra teachers before they rolled the programme out

Harold Jaffu
Tanzania Labour Party

The compulsory scheme re-introduced by President Benjamin Mkapa last year requires all seven-years-olds to register at primary schools across the country.

But so widely observed has this been by parents, that they have found schools ill prepared to handle the huge extra numbers.

Consequently, in the capital, Dar es Salaam, some of the students have been taking refuge under trees to escape either the blistering hot sun or they have been cramming into classrooms to escape the heavy downpours hitting the city recently.

Classrooms under trees

Kiburugwa Primary School in Dar es Salaam, which normally accommodates 3,500 pupils, has now registered a further 1,200 children.

We have followed the government directive, the children have been registered, and now they sit under trees

Yassin Shaban
Head teacher

Head teacher Mr Yassini Shaban says the school cannot cope with the influx.

"What am I going to do with these children?" he asks.

"We have followed the government directive, the children have been registered, and now they sit under trees."

The school needs 32 new classrooms to add to the current 11 classrooms in order to cope, he says.

History repeats itself

Last year President Mkapa declared primary education free in a bid to get more children in schools.

The policy was first introduced in the 1970s under the government of Tanzania's first head of state, Julius Nyerere.

Enrolments and standards improved in the first few years.

Children at Yombo Primary School
Critics say the governemnt is under prepared

But as economic times got harder and foreign debts increased, financing the education programme become unsustainable.

By 1992 the numbers of children in primary schools was high, but education standards had dropped, and fewer children were going into secondary school education.

Ill prepared

Critics of the scheme, warn that the same fate could befall the re-introduced Universal Primary Education programme.

Defending the policy, the government says they are better prepared this time round.

But opposition party Tanzania Labour Party (TLP) official Harold Jaffu says that the opposition were surprised with the government's announcement last year.

"If the government is serious about this UPE then they should have built classrooms and arranged for extra teachers before they rolled the programme out," he says.

"They are getting foreign aid for this project so they should be able to afford supplies."

"Increasing the number of children in schools looks good to the donors but makes no sense if the children are sitting under trees not learning anything," he says.

Tent classrooms

Minister for Education and Culture Joseph Mungai has an impressive array of donors backing his plans, including Sweden, Noraid from Norway, Ireland Aid, Netherlands, UK's Department For International Development (DFID), CIDA Canada, Finland and the European Union.

Yassini Shaban though is not impressed. He says that he has more pressing issues facing his school right now.

"To actually teach anything worthwhile to these children I need at least 60 teachers, I have 20," laments Mr Shaban.

To help ease the overcrowding and to get the children out of the rain or heat, Mr Mungai has promised to provide tents for schools worst hit by overcrowding.

He has stressed this is a temporary measure and that the government is planning to build new classrooms.

But time is running out and according to the opposition it will be difficult to meet the President Mkapa's goals of having all primary age children in school by the year 2005, as well as an improvement in standards.

See also:

10 Sep 01 | Business
Tanzania secures extra funding
25 Jul 01 | Africa
Timeline: Tanzania
08 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tanzania
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