Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dear Joyce

This is FANTASTIC.  Please take a minute to check out this open letter to the new Education Minister, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, written by the media consultant for the Daily News.  I've never once in my nearly nine years in Tanzania read a piece this candid nor articulate.  Hongera sana!
Dear Prof. Ndalichako,

Allow me to congratulate you on your appointment as the Minister in charge of Education in the 5th phase government of the United Republic of Tanzania.

This is no normal appointment as you have just been thrust from the world of a mere educationist into the world of managing a nation's transformation via education.

In normal circumstances, there would be congratulations and champagne on your appointment but in this case, there shall not be.  There is no other way of referring to this new appointment other than as "baptism by fire."

It goes without saying that you earned yourself much respect when you refused to be party to a decision that was to affect the results to the benefit of the ruling class and detriment of the masses.

We know you are aware of the brick-and-mortar problems facing this sector in addition to shortage of teachers; lack of teaching aids, desks, and even classrooms; long distances from villages to schools; and general apathy of educators.  But the biggest challenge to this sector is the lack of skills imparted to the learners.

As for education curriculum reform, it has been obvious for a long time, not just in Tanzania but in East Africa in general, that growth in quantity has not translated into improved quality of our education system.

As a consequence, we have university graduates who are either underemployed or completely unemployed on the one hand, or on the other hand and even more worrisome, graduates who are not worthy of the piece of paper on which their qualification is certified.

In relative terms, it can be easy to deal with unemployment in and of itself, but it is very difficult to deal with the reasons that cause our graduates in their millions to be unattractive to the employment market.

The thing is that ever since East Africa became independent, we have failed to find the much needed political courage and goodwill to reform our education.

As a consequence, our education in 2016 still serves the needs of the colonial government.  It still produces card-carrying loyal chaps who roam our cities in search of someone to empathize and give a blue-collar clerical job.

Our education still produces rote machines who want to be led rather than thinkers who want to provide solutions.  Are we surprised that our universities are more famous for strikes over food provisions than for producing solutions to our water problems?  It is not too difficult to establish how bad the situation is if one is an employer.

The responses one receives and, even worse, the obvious lack of depth in the candidates leaves one breathless.  Dr. Ndalichako, that you chose to visit both Tanzania Education Authority (TEA) and National Council for Technical Education (NACTE), is a clear indication that you know where the problem is.

It is not the numbers of candidates who pass Grade 7 at the end of primary school, or Grade 12, or even Grade 14 that matters.  It is the skills that candidates gain when they exit at whatever stage of formal schooling that ought to matter.  Where we went wrong in the past was to allow political interests to dominate the discourse about education.  The 2013 results which resulted in your resignation is such a case in point.

When politicians step into the fray, the argument gets lost in partisan interests.  Such interests are normally myopic, short-term, and meant to serve interest of none other the politician's ill will.

It is a disgrace to a nation to have to sit down and readjust pass mark percentages in order to look good in the eyes of the public.  Times have changed, Dr. Ndalichako.

There was Tanzania that was myopic, inward-looking, and obsessed with the self.  Then there is Tanzania today.  We are confronted with all manner of challenges, most of which we have no control over, seeing as how the world is a global village since the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW).

Our education must give our learners skills to match the very best globally while meeting the national interests of our local technocrats, technologists, craftsmen, and agriculturalists.

The era of clerks and messengers is long over.  No one is better placed than yourself to etch your name into the annals of Tanzania's modern-day history by doing what is right (and what should have been done three decades ago but was not).

To reform what we teach, how it's taught, and by whom it's done, and evaluating the success of education not on numbers alone, but on the outcomes of the learners and their capability to cope with modern-day challenges, this is the challenge waiting for you to confront.

There will be many more challenges, not least of all answering to those who have benefited from the inadequacies of the past.  But to the masses, take heart, there is a new sheriff in town.  At the end of the tunnel is some light.

You are in luck that in the State House, there is a new President in Dr. John Magufuli who is neither interested in fame nor obsessed with looking good.

Take advantage of that and give Tanzanians something to smile about in a content-reformed education system.  It is the only weapon for prosperity in the Agriculture, Science, and Technology sectors, all of which make up the premise of a better Tanzania.

Happy New Year, Dr. Ndalichako, you have your job cut out for you, and many Tanzanians as well as this columnist, we not only have faith in you, but we also wish you all the best in this onerous task.

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