- Published on Friday, 03 August 2012 02:39
- Written by MAKWAIA WA KUHENGA
- Hits: 1436
AS goes a pictorial column of this newspaper, ‘Looking through the time tunnel’ – we are indeed living through very interesting times if not unprecedented.
Those watching the news on their TV sets this week must have been alarmed if not intrigued by hundreds of pupils – as one would describe kids attending school – who took to the streets and wherever they fancied, demonstrating for the “right to be taught” and this across the country! “Tunataka! Haki yetu!..”
(We demand our rights” they chanted. Listening closer, they were screaming for their rights to be taught, as their teachers were nowhere to be seen! They were on strike. For men of my generation who have been around since the Nyerere Administration, this is the first strike of its kind since independence involving teachers and in fact these strikes, taking an earlier one by doctors, are a phenomenon because they have never before been conceived nor imagined.
A Tanzanian doctor going on strike? A Tanzanian teacher striking? And to cap it all, pupils also taking to the streets also demonstrating for their rights to get taught? But this is happening in this country today! It is phenomenon, indeed. And this calls, not for abstract reaction of dealing with strikes per se, but a fundamental appraisal of the evolution of the Tanzanian society in general.
This is what, I submit, should be the stance by policy and decision makers of this country. As the president said on Wednesday this week, the teachers’ demand for a hundred per cent salary increases and what have you may be asking too much for the country’s capability to meet, but a re-look at the country’s education system is more urgent than ever before. What is a fact now, looking at the teachers and the affected pupils is that the most affected people by this teachers’ strike are the have-nots majority of the population of this country whose children attend public schools or government owned schools.
These are the children we have seen in their thousands on the roads demonstrating, demanding for their ‘rights to be taught’. Again, if another fact is to be mentioned, these are the children who attend schools whose quality input leaves a lot to be desired. Recently, there were reports to the effect that students selected to join secondary education having “passed” their secondary education entry exams have been discovered to be actually illiterate – they can hardly read and write!
These pupils are the ones attending public schools, or government owned schools! Again, if one would be patient a little to listen to yet another fact – the Tanzanian society has been grossly stratified today in terms of classes, namely - the haves who can afford their children a private education and the poor majority who have no choice but to take their children to public schools. Given these facts alone, my call to policy and decision makers to look at the current social crisis fundamentally; examining the social economic situation of the country certainly makes sense.
Where does one begin? To conceive a strike by doctors or teachers during the days of the socialist order in this country between 1967 and 1985 was inconceivable. Why? The country was firstly run by a set of ethics, which governed the overall conduct of society in terms of ideology, which is the direction of the country. People then spoke of money, not as a basis of development, but as the outcome of hard work. But today, in the market forces era, or bluntly capitalism, it is the opposite.
Money is everything and making money by hooks and crooks for that matter, even if it means an MP soliciting for a bribe, as goes the headlines these days! Since we seem to have jumped on the ‘market forces’ bandwagon without any homework as to the modus operandi, taking into context the traditions and values of the Tanzanian society, putting emphasis on privatization as the “engine of economic growth” as went the slogan during the Mkapa Administration, we hardly knew, did we, that we were actually dangerously stratifying the Tanzanian society into classes as described elsewhere in the course of this perspective.
Who does not know that in a capitalist society, (with ours not even qualifying for one except for a satellite role for global capital) it is the “law of the jungle, survival of the fittest”? Capitalism, of course, can hardly be mistaken to build equality. That is out of question. The best it can do is to accumulate an appetite to acquire more wealth by those in public office bracket and hope against hope for the working class such as the teachers and other in the professional groups.
We did not even seem (did we?) to be good students of market forces, even having an afterthought of studying what is happening in countries, which formerly colonized this country such as Britain. In Britain, one may learn, if one is serious to learn, that the country has a strong public sector in education for instance. Government-funded schools are as good as it goes; one raises eyebrows if one brags that one’s child is attending a privately-owned school.
In fact people fight to get their children in public schools, which are as well equipped as are the teachers reasonably well-paid. This factor can be extended to the health sector. Of course ideas advanced in this perspective are simply aimed at provoking food for thought upon which our policy decision and policy makers may find a starting point to resolve what appears to be a problem that may end up multiplying into many more others in the immediate future.
Teachers should be reasoned out to rethink their stance; putting before them policy reconsiderations in so far as re-scheduling priorities of government in public education funding for quality and remuneration. Surely, we are no longer a cashew nut or sisal economy as much as these ingredients are an important input for our economy. Surely again, new natural resources such as gas, uranium and other mineral production will make a difference to the majority segment of the population including teachers and doctors? It is a question of a fundamental reassessment of the thrust of the social-economic direction of this country.