Elimination of O-Level Fees

Last month, in “Public Commends Planned Scrap of O-Level Fees“, the Guardian reported that the government plans to eliminate fees at O-Level secondary schools. The stated goal of the plan is to make O-Level financially accessible for everyone. While the plan may have been widely commended, there are several hurdles to achieving the desired effect. While eliminating school fees would make O-Level more affordable, there are still many other contributions that some families would find prohibitively expensive. In the Guardian’s article Professor Lipumba is quoted as stating that, “even in primary schools where education is free there is quite a number of contributions.” At the secondary level the contributions are even more numerous. In addition to the prescribed government school fees of 20,000/= a year, every school we are aware of also charges an academic fee that is typically 10,000/=. Then, depending on the school, there can be fees for electricity, maintenance, security, food, paper, and potentially other items, each of which is usually between 5,000/= and 15,000/=. When students join they often have one time contributions for an item or two (or money to purchase them) like a desk, bucket, or hoe. Students in examination years (the second and fourth years) have additional fees for the national examinations, regional mocks, and (for some schools) other practice tests. Clearly the sum of these contributions can be quite large and are often greater than the school fees themselves. Eliminating school fees is a step towards making O-Level universally accessible, but as long as the students have such large manditory contributions there will be a few families who cannot afford to send their students to O-Level. As the article mentions, there is the potential that scrapping the school fees will not result in a smaller financial burden. A decade ago the government eliminated school fees at the primary level and halved the fees at the secondary level. The government promised to provide the schools with capitation grants in order to compensate for the revenue lost through fee reductions, but it has struggled to fulfill its committment. Last year Twaweza reported that between 2010 and 2012 Tanzanian primary schools received less than a quarter of the money they were owed by the government (Capitation grants in primary schools: a decade since their launch, is money reaching schools?). While we have heard that the situation is better at the secondary level, if the government is going to eliminate school fees entirely for O-Level schools it needs to be prepared to fully supply the capitation grants in a timely fashion. The recently announced decision to deposit money directly into school accounts (Yes, Capitation Grants Need Control) is a promising step, but if schools do not receive their money from the government they will likely increase the other required contributions in order to avoid losing revenue. If the elimination of school fees results in an equal increase in other required contributions then there will be no change in the affordability of O-Level. Sadly, even if the government does manage to transfer the required money to every school in a timely fashion there will likely still be increases in other contributions. School officials know that people are used to paying that amount of money and some will undoubtably raise contributions to increase the revenue at their schools. Hopefully any additional money they require will be used for the benefit of the students

Tanzanian Government should Focus on Improving Quality of Education Before Further Expansions

Human rights groups have been campaigning in Tanzania for the abolishment of using the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) as a filter to determine which students will attend secondary school. These groups argue that abolishing PSLE would allow all students to attend secondary school and, as a result, help reduce child labor. While having universal secondary education is a laudable goal, TETEA is concerned that a rapid increase in enrollment at the secondary level would have a detrimental impact on the quality of education provided. The primary reason for TETEA’s concern is that many children finishing primary school are not prepared to continue their education. Based on several years of research conducted by Uwezo, an educational rights organization, student literacy rates at the primary level are abysmal. Uwezo found that almost 15% of Tanzanian pupils in Standard 7 (the final year of primary school) were unable to read a paragraph at the Standard 2 level in Swahili, which is the language of instruction in primary school as well as the country’s lingua franca. Over 30% of pupils finishing primary school were unable to read a paragraph in English, the language of instruction in secondary schools, at the Standard 2 level. TETEA believes that children who have neither mastered the language of instruction of primary school nor demonstrated satisfactory understanding of the language of instruction used in secondary school should not be allowed to progress. Eliminating the PLSE would only limit the ability of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) to determine who has the necessary skills to succeed in secondary school; it would do nothing to ensure that students are learning. Placing students in an academic program for which they are unprepared is not providing educational access. Instead, it may add more strain to an already poorly funded educational system. This hurts those students who are academically prepared for secondary school, as fewer resources (time spent on teaching, books, classroom space) will be allocated to help them continue to succeed. It will also negatively impact those students who are not prepared, as these students will continue to fall further behind and may develop a lower sense of self-efficacy/self-image. While student achievement/learning would not increase, there would likely be a decrease in secondary school national exam pass rates. A similar educational policy change was implemented in 2009, when the MoEVT eliminated the requirement for students to pass the Form 2 examinations before continuing on to Form 3. While more students were retained through Form IV, the number of Division 0’s (those who were unable to score more than 20% in at least two subjects) rose to more than 50% of students. This, in turn, led the government to reconsider its decision, requiring students to pass Form 2 examinations before progressing to Form 3. Focusing on eliminating the PLSE draws attention away from another issue related to student attendance: the ability of students to afford schooling. While they would like to go to school, many students face financial burdens that lead them to drop out and seek employment. Not only are there lost wages associated with school attendance, but there are also a number of additional costs (such as school fees and uniform costs). In order to reduce the financial disincentives for attending school, governments often eliminate school fees. The Tanzanian government eliminated primary school fees in the 2000s in attempts to attain universal primary education. Though it promised to compensate those schools for the lost tuition through capitation grants, it has not kept that promise. According to Uwezo, primary schools receive approximately one fifth of the capitation grants that they are entitled to. If the MoEVT were to make secondary education universal, there might be pressures to reduce or eliminate school fees. Given the government’s difficulty in supporting schools at the primary level, TETEA is concerned that any attempts to abolish school fees at the secondary level would leave many more schools under-resourced. Given the problems associated with rapidly increasing the number of secondary school students (a lack of teachers, books, classroom space, etc), TETEA feels that if the MoEVT does attempt to increase the number of students in secondary school it should do so gradually and ensure that additional resources are allocated to support the increase. Also, the MoEVT should work to allocate more resources at the primary level to ensure that students are better prepared for secondary school. Universal secondary education is a worthy goal to strive for, but it should not be rushed. While an increase in secondary school attendance could reduce the incidence of negative societal outcomes (such as child labor or teen pregnancy), it could also reduce educational quality. Rather than expanding enrollment at secondary schools, TETEA believes efforts should focus on improving the quality of education at primary schools. Achieving universal literacy at the primary level, in both Swahili and English, should be the current aim of government efforts. Only then, and as greater numbers of students are finishing primary school with adequate preparation, should the government begin increasing enrollment at the secondary level.   Sources:

Are Our Children Learning? (UWEZO): http://www.uwezo.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/TZ_Uwezo2012ALAReport.pdf

Capitation Grants in Primary Schools: A Decade Since Their Launch, Is Their Money Reaching Schools? (UWEZO): http://www.twaweza.org/go/sauti-brief-capitation

Let’s Tackle Primary School Leaving Examination (Daily News): http://www.dailynews.co.tz/index.php/features/31338-education-week-let-s-tackle-primary-school-leaving-examination

Rising Illiteracy Should Be Taken Seriously (IPP Media) http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=37381

Tanzania Rolling Out Form IV Pre-tests

Tanzania Daily News recently wrote an article, Tanzania: Provisional Form Four Tests in Pipeline, describing the government’s plan to roll out provisional tests designed to help students and teachers assess which topics they should spend more time on before the real national examinations.  The program could be beneficial, though I wonder how detailed the feedback will be.  Form IV students have been doing mock examinations at the regional level for years, though they only receive scores by subject.  Perhaps the schools will receive detailed reports breaking down performance on each question like they’ve started releasing for the national examinations (example for Civics 2013)?

DEO and Headmasters Demoted in Mbinga

Last month Daily News and Habari Leo reported that the District Education Officer and six headmasters were demoted in Mbinga for misusing funds.  Secondary schools receive money from the government (based on the number of students enrolled) and stipulations on how the money is to be spent.  Apparently a lot of money that was intended to purchase books for the schools was diverted to other purposes.
I agree with Marycelina Masha that the punishment doled out to them was fairly light.  I believe that the former headmasters have only lost a position of respect and not received any economic punishment.  (While teaching in Tanzania I was told that salaries at government schools depended only on education and the number of years taught, and that administrators like headmasters did not receive any more money than if they were regular teachers.)  Still, this is better than the more commonly used disciplinary measure of transfering someone to a smaller and/or more rural school.
While the Daily News article states that embezzlement in the education sector is a problem across the country, this case is particularly relevant to TETEA since it occurred in the geographic area where we are focused.  In fact, three of the demoted headmasters teach at schools that are very close to the library we help operate.  The closest, Maguu Secondary, is only a few hundred meters from the library.  Mkuwani Secondary is a bit farther away, though we receive more visits from its students.  Langiro Secondary is less than six miles from the library and its students occasionally go to the library after attending mass at the nearby church or visiting the market on the weekend.  Hopefully the change of leadership will result in these schools being better equipped, but in the meantime I’m glad that the library is nearby to provide access to textbooks for any interested students.

Form Two Results Released

A summary of the 2013 Form 2 examination results was reported by Mwananchi, The Citizen, and Majira. Of the students who took the examination only 62% passed. This is a slight decrease from the previous year when 64% passed. The papers also reported that students will continue with school regardless of results. Last year the government had announced a return to using Form 2 examinations as a gate, allowing only those who averaged at least 30% to continue on to Form 3. Now the government is stating that students who averaged at least 20% should continue to Form 3 as well, though in a remedial section that will review Form 2 material as well. Also, it appears that the government is going to allow students to repeat Form 2 multiple times, instead of having them end their education career after failing twice as was done in the past. While it is understandable that the government doesn’t want to abandon its students, I wonder how many of the students who are being allowed to continue in remedial classes will successfully pass their Form 4 examinations. Not only do they have more information to learn over the next two years because of the need to cover the material from the earlier forms, but I suspect they will also be taught less than their peers in the regular sections. Many periods pass without a teacher entering the classroom in Tanzania, and I believe that a remedial section would be much more likely to be skipped than regular sections. Strong leadership is needed from the government to ensure that the students aren’t just given opportunity to take the Form 4 examination in two years, but are also given the education that will help them pass the tests.