Schools with strange problems

PUPILS sitting on the floor in an overcrowded classroom.


IT came to light early this week that the parents of kindergarten pupils in a remote village in Longido District have agreed to hire a young Maasai morani to teach their young kids at a monthly “salary” of a “mbalelo” (a young male goat).

The teacher, a young man who has graduated from the youth group to the more respectable morani, lives in Kitumbeine Division of Longido District in Arusha region. The teacher with a difference conducts his kindergarten lessons in Gilaibomba village.

The children take their lessons in the shade of a tree every day. This sounds like fiction in a short story book but it is, indeed, true. Mwalimu Tipiliti Kileli Mollel, as the young Maasai morani as known to his pupils and their parents, is a rare gem indeed.

In rural Tanzania, however, scenes like this one are not uncommon. They are not incredible or laughable. The introduction of free education from Standard One to Form four a few years ago has received a lot of accolades nationwide.

It is a brilliant initiative that has been unveiled by the Fifth Phase Government under President John Pombe Magufuli. But there is a kink in this initiative. The nation does not have enough schools.

There are too few teachers. Some schools do not have desks, learning and teaching materials; and as if this is not bad enough most rural schools do not have running water and toilets.

The abolition of school fees, consequently, has prompted parents to take their school age children for enrollment, a situation that has overstretched the intake capacity of most primary schools.

The same predicament has also overstretched school resources. Majimatitu Primary School in Temeke District, for example, is a case in point. Here, the number of registered newcomers virtually overwhelmed the school.

Some of the pupils sat under the canopies of trees due to a critical shortage of classrooms. There is absolutely nothing wrong in registering all school age children for primary school education. But the going is a bit rugged and rough.

The Fifth Phase Government should step in and see how this nasty kink in a highly brilliant initiative will be eliminated. There are so many critically needy schools in this country. A few years agpo, the National Assembly was told that pupils at Kamukola and Ruzila primary schools in Kagera region learned in despicably filthy conditions.

They sat on stones in grassthatched mud huts which got smelly and dank during the rainy season. The huts were also infested with insects, some of which were notorious in biting the children and their teacher.

Certainly, this was, and still is, not an ideal learning environment even for a primary school child. What boggles the mind furthermore is the nettling fact that the two schools are officially registered government entities.

The complaint was floated in the august House by Mr Jasson Rwikiza who did not mince words in describing the situation as “shameful.” But the State responded promptly saying that all schools get funds for classroom construction every fiscal year.

Well, Kamukole Primary School, which had 195 pupils at the time, and Ruzila, which accommodated 255 pupils, got 48m/- each that financial year. The State promised to disburse a further 11.6m/- for the construction budget in the coming year.

This was a good idea but the money could not have afforded a single classroom. This is one area where the current government’s spotlight must pinpoint. The number of needy schools, especially primary and secondary schools in this country can be shocking.

Some schools operate for years on end without running tap water. Others have no pit latrines. And there are those that have heavily overcrowded classrooms. It is also imperative to mention here that some schools have only two teachers where 20 are needed.

This may sound incredible, but it is even more astounding to find schools whose pupils take their lessons under the canopy of a mango tree. The situation is even more pathetic in kindergartens where some pre-schools teachers, many of whom have no formal training for their job, handle a total of 60, 70, 80 or in some incredible cases, 100 pupils in a single classroom.

The official pupils-teacher ratio in pre-schools (kindergartens) is 25:1. However, there is solace in the workload -- the more the pupils the more the monetary fees. The other anomaly in this aspect is that out of the 16,597 pre-school teachers at work now only eight per cent are qualified for the job.

The remainder is untrained and unqualified. This is partially the reason for last years’ 10 per cent dropout among pre-schoolers. The other sorry spectacle in this aspect is the fact that 22 per cent of Standard One entrants in this country drop out before reaching Standard Seven.

The bad omens here include lack of school feeding. Some schools of thought believe that hunger often affects the concentration of children in the classroom. Hungry children often doze off or simply get disillusioned.

The Magufuli administration is aware of this anomaly and is already working on it. The common suggestion, however, among stakeholders in education is that parents should give their young school goers small amounts of money for buying food or sweets.

When hunger strikes in any communal setting, it is often the children who suffer most. It is imperative to mention here that school feeding should be restored especially in rural primary and secondary schools especially where students cover huge distances on foot going to school and back home.

Certainly, hungry students hardly listen to their teachers. A survey made in yesteryears showed that apart from whetting the appetite for learning, school feeding improves school attendance and cuts back on the dropout rate.

Students hardly grasp the gist of their lessons with the pangs of hunger and thirst raging. So, stinging hunger and thirst affect the concentration of children in the classroom. As mentioned before, hungry children often doze off or simply get badly disillusioned and disoriented.

Yet the nation expects excellent academic performance from them! Schooling children must be accorded the best all-round attention. It is during these early school stages that future professional brains are groomed.

These must be accorded the best care, grooming and academic supervision. This initiative also entails excellent school feeding. The nation cannot expect to have excellent future doctors, architects, soldiers, teachers, journalists, politicians and others who have full potential if their educational start is this erratic. Psychologists believe that an intelligent brain lost during childhood is an intellectual firebrand lost forever. So, we cannot expect to see brilliant brains emanating from primary schools such as Kamukola and Ruzila where pupils study in mud huts.

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