SEATTLE, Washington — Education is a crucial tool to alleviate global poverty. In Tanzania, however, quality education remains sorely lacking, leaving children unequipped to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. When considering science education in Tanzania, the situation is likewise dire. Textbooks are scarce and outdated and there is inadequate equipment for scientific experiments. Fortunately, there are organizations working to improve the situation.
Approximately two million children between 7 and 13 are not enrolled in school. By some estimates, that number may be as high as 5.1 million. Only 30 percent are enrolled in secondary school. Moreover, the education that students are receiving is largely sub-standard partially because of the teacher to student ratio of 131:1. In 2014, UNICEF revealed that only 8 percent of children in the second grade were literate and only 8 percent were capable of basic arithmetic.
The Peace Corps in Tanzania
Despite these circumstances, there are many individuals and organizations intent on improving education in Tanzania, especially in science. One such person is Aron Walker, a current teacher at the Nueva Upper School in California. Walker was a member of the Peace Corps in Tanzania from 2007-2011 where he worked as a science teacher. While working, he discovered that the materials to conduct experiments simply did not exist despite practical exams being a requirement for secondary school students studying science in Tanzania.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Walker spoke of his time in Tanzania. “We needed flasks, stoppers, things like that. Earlier teachers at my school, perhaps other volunteers, had come up with various solutions. For instance, they would go to the pharmacy or the liquor and get all of their old glass bottles. I had this idea to cut old flip flops and make them stoppers,” Walker explained. As Walker’s first two years in the Peace Corps came to an end, he had fully embraced what he deemed “a culture of improvisation.” However, it became clear to him and other volunteers that something more needed to be done.
“We realized this was a thing that was actually really needed. How to do hands-on science with a very, very low budget,” Walker said. Thus began the Shika na Mikono or the Hold with Hands project. This project endeavored to document the various techniques Walker and others learned in order to teach practical science cheaply. They taught other science teachers in Tanzania their methods and wrote guides and syllabuses that were distributed across the country by the Ministry of Education.
Improving Science in Classrooms
Walker is not alone in the fight to strengthen the quality of science education in Tanzania. There are other educator groups devising solutions. For instance, in 2012, Ladislaus M. Semali and Khanjan Mehta worked alongside a group of Tanzanian teachers, entrepreneurs and administrators to devise the iSPACES framework. iSPACES stands for Innovation, Science, Practicals, Application, Conceptualization, Entrepreneurship and Systems.
It as a new way to instruct potential science teachers in Tanzania about how best to stimulate learning and creativity in their classrooms. Semali and Mehta advocate for a reimaged science curriculum that teaches relevant material about issues such as epidemic diseases, clean water and food preservation that impact Tanzanian student bodies.
Education Improvement in Tanzania
Beyond scientific curriculums, other organizations have been focused on promoting general education in Tanzania. For instance, organizations such as UNICEF and Room to Read have worked extensively to improve the overall quality of and access to education throughout the country. UNICEF works in tandem with the Tanzanian government to strengthen the educational experience in specific communities and schools.
Meanwhile, Room to Read has devised an early warning system to identify which girls are most likely to drop out of school young so that they can provide extra support. Furthermore, the Peace Corps continues to work in Tanzania today, sending volunteers such as Walker to fulfill the desperate need for science teachers in the country.
While the state of primary and secondary school education in Tanzania needs a lot of work, there are many who are working on creating solutions to fix it. The Peace Corps and programs like Room to Read and iSPACES hope to provide children in Tanzania with a good education.
– Chace Pulley