Happy new year, one and all. I hope everyone's celebrations went off smoothly and safely and that no one is any the worse for wear today?!
Drogo and I played it safe this year, opting for a pajama-clad (well, for me, anyway) binge-watch of HBO's The Newsroom rather than braving any sort of rowdy festivity in the outside world. Drogo and I find Sam Waterston soothing....
Anyhoo, in lieu of original content, here's an article from The Citizen earlier in the week. It's titled "Trials, Tribulations of Free Education."
I feel like I coulda wrote the thing myself based on Toa's experiences at Mnazi. Over-population of Standard One? Check. Under-resourced teaching staff? Check. No physical classroom to put the inflated student population? Check. Contributions required from other stakeholders to build classrooms? .... Check.
Toa has not yet personally experienced the surplus of desks issue, but I imagine it's down the pike for us. Stay tuned....
The government started implementing the free education policy this year  responding to President John Magufuli's campaign promise.
One of the most cheered statements during his campaign was when he assured voters that once elected, his government would make sure every child from Standard One to Form Four would not pay a single shilling for education in a bid to motivate parents to enroll their children in school.
Over the years, the school dropout rate has been alarmingly high for numerous reasons including that the parents found it difficult to pay school contributions.
Before the implementation of the policy, O-level secondary school students were paying Tsh20,000 a year for day scholars and Tsh70,000 for boarders.
There were hardly any fees for primary pupils but numerous contributions were expected to be paid on a monthly basis. When schools opened in January 2016, the government scrapped the contributions in primary schools and fees for O-level secondary students.
The government set aside Tsh131.4 billion for free education, whereby Tsh18.77 billion was to be disbursed monthly.
From the funds, the government promised to pay Tsh20,000 and Tsh70,000 per year in school fees for day and boarding secondary school students respectively. This, as well as capitation of Tsh10,000 for each primary pupil each year and Tsh25,000 for every secondary school student. In addition Tsh1,500 is allotted for meals for those in boarding schools.
President Magufuli warned schools heads that no parent should be asked for contributions of any kind as the government is able to cater for all costs.
Almost a year has gone by and the ambitious policy according to some education experts was faced with a number of hurdles risking the quality of education.
As the free education was rolled out, Tanzanians were overly optimistic of its success.
In a poll conducted by Twaweza across mainland Tanzania between December 2015 and January 2016, nine out of 10 Tanzanians (90%) were confident that the free education policy would be implemented.
The survey also revealed that three out four (75%) believed the free education policy was going to improve the quality of education.
However, 15% believed the policy would not improve the quality of education as a result of the surge in enrollment, which they fear would stretch available resources.
Dubbed "The New Dawn? Citizens' Views on New Developments in Education," the report was based on data collected from 1,894 respondents.
Despite the optimism on free education, citizens were divided on the quality of primary education over the last 10 years.
49% of the respondents thought that the quality had improved, while 36% thought it had deteriorated. 14% felt there was no change.
As soon as enrollment started, schools started overflowing with students. Reports show that more than 1.3 million pupils were enrolled for Standard One alone.
The majority of schools in the country received a high number of pupils overwhelming the capacity of available infrastructure.
Reports from all over the country indicated that schools ended up enrolling more pupils than they could efficiently handle.
Majimatitu Primary School in Dar es Salaam, for example, enrolled 1,022 pupils for Standard One alone compared to its capacity of 945 pupils.
In other schools, pupils increased from 45 on average in a classroom to over 130 pushing some to have the pupils study under trees.
The increased pupils' enrollment in primary schools sparked a new crisis of a shortage of desks that called for a nation-wide campaign for contributions from various stakeholders to solve the problem. The result was that more desks were made than the available number classrooms to accommodate them and in some schools the desks had to be kept outside school buildings.
The challenges were however observed by Dr. Magufuli who assured Tanzanians that his government was not going to shy from them. He also promised to double the budget allocated for the implementation of the policy next year.
"I would like to tell you this fact, that anything good comes with challenges, and we are facing many challenges in offering free education," said Dr. Magufuli.
Following these challenges President Magufuli took a number of cost-cutting measures including mobilizing his cabinet ministers as well as private citizens to voluntarily contribute to build more classrooms and make more desks.
Education experts worried that the policy that had already sparked off a number of challenges would further affect the quality of education provided in schools.
They claimed that the educational facilities available before the policy was introduced were hardly enough to support the existing number of students.
The shortage of teachers has for long time been impacting on the quality of education provided. In the year 2016, despite the increased enrollment of Standard One pupils, the government did not employ more teachers.
Some of the experts questioned the government's capability to allocate 20% of the national budget towards the education sector as recommended by the Incheon Declaration of 2015 of the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The declaration requires member countries to allocate at least 20% of their budgets to address education issues of accessibility, quality, equity, inclusion, gender, and lifelong learning. Tanzania has however remained at 17.3% of the national budget.
Experts have however pointed out that there are still a number indirect costs and contributions that does not free education from being free.