In Pursuit of Schooling: Girls' Education and Economic 'Reform' in Tanzania


The sun is beginning to set as Zubeida Makiro and I walk down the road between Njema Secondary School, where I am a teacher and researcher, and our homes near the local primary school. Looking back, we can see the snow covering Kibo and Mawenzi, the twin peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro, while in front of us lies the vast Maasai Steppe dotted with Chagga, Maasai and Meru communities. Zubeida is 18 years old and works for our Tanzanian neighbor as a "housegirl," a demanding job that requires her to cook, clean, shop, and provide child care seven days a week for a salary of less than $12 per month. Although she was one of the top students in her primary school class, her spot at the government secondary school was purchased through a bribe by a weaker student's wealthy father. Her parents, with nine children to support, could not pay for her to attend a private school. Thus, Zubeida became a school leaver at the age of fifteen and has worked in a local fish market and in domestic service ever since. On our walk to and from the shops near the school, Zubeida shares with me her feelings about the difficulties faced by young women like her whose families cannot afford the cost of secondary school. Over the course of the year in Kilimanjaro, my knowledge about education is reinvented, in Freirean terms, as I gain a deeper understanding of the gap between policy and practice through conversations with Zubeida and her school-leaver friends.

Development experts usually define the problem of education in Tanzania as stemming from either an inadequate supply of schools or an insufficient demand for schooling. This supply-and-demand framework provides a ready explanation for the gender gap in education -- a gap that has become a popular target for policy interventions because post-primary education for women is correlated with lower birth rates and improved child health. Donor agencies in Tanzania are currently tackling the education problem through school rehabilitation projects, teaching improvement programs, and gender sensitization workshops designed to bolster community support for girls' schooling.

These efforts may indeed increase the supply of schools and stimulate the demand for schooling, but sadly, few programs have addressed the profound changes in the government's economic policy that have shifted much of the cost of schooling from the national to the household level, which in most cases cannot support the added expense. Community apathy and gender stereotypes have instead been singled out as the most serious educational problems, while the privatization of schooling, which has raised the price of secondary schooling beyond the means of most families, continues unabated.

Tanzania's Achievements in Education

At independence in 1961, the government of Tanzania had a formidable task on its hands. In a country of approximately nine million people, there were two Tanzanian lawyers, sixteen Tanzanian physicians, and an equally inadequate number of Tanzanian teachers. Though most parents were willing to send their children to school, there was room for only 121,000 Tanzanian children in the first year of primary school, 4,200 in the first year of secondary school, and 76 in the first year of university studies. Women were a minority at every level, making up 40 percent of first-year primary school students, 29 percent of secondary school students, and less than 1 percent of first-year university students. (Ministry of Education, 1986) To meet the demand for Tanzanians to fill high-level posts, the government of President Julius Nyerere initially followed an education policy designed to increase enrollment at the secondary and tertiary levels. This policy was compatible with the new government's economic strategy encouraging export production, industrialization, and an open economy.

By the mid 1960s, it was clear that the economic and educational programs of the last five years had not produced the expected outcomes. In 1967, Nyerere announced two important new policies: The Arusha Declaration, including Education for Self- Reliance (ESR). The Arusha Declaration called for the nationalization of large segments of the industrial sector, the end to private accumulation of wealth by government employees, and the establishment of ujamaa -- African socialism -- through the building of villages with the intention of promoting communal agricultural development and facilitating the implementation of social services in rural areas. ESR, the educational component of ujamaa, was designed to reduce regional, ethnic, and class inequalities through a restructuring of the education system. Nyerere argued that primary education should become "a complete education in itself" by teaching children the skills they would need for participation in a cooperative agricultural society. (1968) As a result of ESR, there was a shift in emphasis from secondary and tertiary education to primary and adult basic education.

Considerable debate continues about the economic and political consequences of ujamaa, but it is difficult to contest the success of ESR in improving primary school enrollment and adult literacy rates. Enrollment in primary school for girls and boys increased steadily during the late 1960s and 1970s, and by 1982 gross enrollment in primary school was 95 percent. (World Bank, 1999) Literacy rates, as measured by national literacy tests, also increased from 31 percent in 1967 to approximately 90 percent by 1986. (Samoff, 1990) Due to the emphasis on primary and adult education, enrollment at the secondary and tertiary levels expanded more slowly during this period. However, female enrollment at all levels improved throughout the early 1980s due to government- implemented affirmative action programs. By 1984, girls and women constituted 50 percent of first-year primary school students, 38 percent of first-year secondary school students, and 18 percent of first-year university students.

The Decline in Education

In the early 1980s, Tanzania's economic situation worsened, and the country's previous gains in education slowed significantly. Primary-school enrollment began to decline and the proportion of students dropping out of school increased. In an attempt to alleviate the country's economic woes, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank became involved in developing a series of economic recovery programs that continue to the present. Since then, the state-directed policies of ujamaa and self-reliance have given way to decentralization, economic liberalization, and dependence on donor aid and expertise in many social service sectors, including education. Tanzania's external debt has increased dramatically; the country currently spends four times more on servicing its debt than it does on basic education. The debt burden, coupled with a decline in the per capita GNP from 1990 to 1996, has led to a situation in which neither the government nor individual households can cover the burgeoning costs of education. (UNICEF, 1999)

In recognition of Tanzania's limited resource base, recent education policy calls for more involvement of private agencies in operating schools. Although policy contains vestiges of Nyerere's self-reliance philosophy, including such phraseology as "people- centered development and improvement strategy" and "equitable and sustainable development," equity is unlikely when "broadening the financial base for education and training" means steep and sudden increases in school fees and school-related expenses. Moreover, sustainability and Tanzanian self-reliance are compromised when pride of place goes to "encouraging private agencies to participate in the provision of education, to establish and manage schools and other educational institutions at all levels." (Ministry of Education and Culture, 1995) Development analysts Phil Raikes and Peter Gibbon contend that "so much donor orientation has seeped into Tanzanian state decision-making processes that talk of local `ownership' of structural adjustment policies is little more than a bad joke." (1996) In the case of education, the "bad joke" is that the impact of structural adjustment policies on the gender gap receives far less attention than do the attitudes that keep some parents from sending their daughters to school.

The Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania

The Kilimanjaro Region of northern Tanzania provides an ideal setting in which to explore the socioeconomic factors affecting girls' school enrollment and achievement. The Chagga (the largest ethnic group in the region) have a long history of support for boys' and girls' schooling. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Chagga chiefs on Mount Kilimanjaro competed with each other to attract Lutheran and Catholic missionaries to their communities and then demanded that schools and clinics be built along with churches. Missionaries were instrumental to the economic transformation that occurred during the early years of the twentieth century as Chagga farmers began growing commercial crops, most notably coffee, to sell to mission stations. Money from the sale of coffee enabled many Chagga to pay the required taxes to the colonial government and to invest their profits in the building of schools, roads, and clinics. Yet it was also during this period that land shortages intensified on the mountain, as familial plots of farmland were subdivided among eligible sons and unclaimed land was appropriated for mission and colonial purposes. Schooling became a way for families to cope with land pressure since educated sons could gain independence from the family farm by working for wages within the colonial economy.

Little is known about Chagga motivation for sending girls to school, but it is likely that parents saw it as another way to improve the material well-being of the family and a means of enhancing a young woman's marital prospects. Individual and community investments in education, infrastructure and health facilities may explain why the Chagga are considered by many Tanzanians to be the pioneers of demographic and social change.

The Kilimanjaro Region boasts relatively high levels of education for girls and lower birth rates, better maternal and child health, and greater material resources than do most regions of the country. A higher percentage of women in this region complete primary school than in any other. Kilimanjaro also has the largest number of government and private secondary schools of any region in the country and the highest percentage of girls enrolled in private schools. In terms of fertility and health, it is the region with the highest percentage of women currently using contraceptives, the highest percentage of fully vaccinated children, and, with the exception of the capital Dar es Salaam, the highest percentage of births attended by a doctor. (Bureau of Statistics, 1997) With these historic and contemporary advantages, one might expect to find the majority of girls in the Kilimanjaro Region attending secondary school. This, unfortunately, is not the case; many families are willing but unable to cover the rapidly rising costs of schooling.

The Problem of Schooling in Kilimanjaro

Demographic surveys provide a lens through which policy- makers can evaluate the impact, in the abstract, of attitudes and income on education. These surveys, however, do not allow one to see the situated cultural and economic practices that impinge upon a girl's ability to continue in school. Knowledge of this sort emerges only through inquiry with those whose lives are shaped through their engagement with these practices. Conversations with Zubeida and her friends often juxtaposed the difficulty of making a living under current economic conditions with their desire to have a better future through further education. Talk often revolved around parents' frustration at not being able to send their children -- both girls and boys -- to secondary school at a time when this is expected of `good' Chagga parents. Rose Lyatuu, a 16- year-old primary school leaver, shared her hopes of becoming an electrician or a nurse as soon as her father could afford to pay for her training program. Rose's younger sister, who wanted to continue in school, had been accepted at the nearby secondary school and was also hopeful that their father could pay the fees. Unfortunately, the girls' father, a day laborer, had little chance of saving the money needed to pay for his daughters' post-primary education even though he shared their dreams of further schooling.

Rose's father's experience is typical in this community; the desire to educate girls is great, but the means to pay for schooling are non-existent for the many Chagga families lacking adequate land or income. The situated history of education, economics, and shifting gender relations on Mount Kilimanjaro was explained to me one evening by Mr. Ringo, an insightful neighbor who had somehow managed to send his sons and daughters to secondary school:

In the past, children were given farms, fields...but the farms -- the fields -- have been exhausted. What we now give our children is education so that they can further themselves. If they have gotten an education, I think this is the inheritance they have received from us.... And if you watch a lot of parents these days, they will educate their female children because they think their daughters will remember [to care for] their parents more than [will] their sons. That is the case because when the male child has his own family, it's hard for him to remember his parents. But the female child, even when she gets married, with good luck she'll marry a man with an education and she'll have her own job. She will then remember her parents more than a male child.


in the Kilimanjaro Region today, parents generally recognize the importance of education for their daughters -- and their sons - - and send them to school for as long as they can afford it. While the gender gap in African education continues to make headlines, policy-makers in the fields of education, population, and development have not given due attention to the growing education gap between wealthy and poor children. In their exhaustive study of gender differences in education, researchers John Knodel and Gavin Jones conclude that "there is another gap, with serious implications for development and for equality of opportunity, as well as for demographic outcomes, that is largely ignored in the new population paradigm. This is the gap in access to education by socioeconomic status." (1996) Closing the socioeconomic gap and increasing the enrollment rates for girls and boys should be given higher priority in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa.

The 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar will draw attention to the financial barriers at the macro-level that prevent many Sub- Saharan African countries from achieving universal primary education. These include the burden of debt repayment and the inadequate level of official development assistance from G7 countries for basic health and education programs. There is no forum planned, however, in which Zubeida, Rose, and Mr. Ringo could share their knowledge of the micro-level financial barriers that prevent many girls and boys from receiving an adequate education. By pursuing Freire's "hopeful inquiry" of dialogue on Mount Kilimanjaro, I have received many valuable suggestions, deserving of consideration by policy-makers, for improving equity and quality in education. These include the development of a financial aid program whereby low-income parents could take out low-interest loans to pay for their children's education, the expansion of boarding facilities for girls at secondary schools to ensure them adequate time to study in the evenings, and an increase in teachers' salaries so that they can again be in the classroom full- time rather than engaged in additional income-earning activities.

The recommendations from both the macro and micro levels point to the importance of socioeconomic analysis in building effective strategies to improve educational opportunities for girls and boys in Tanzania. The success of these education reform proposals depends as much on the relentless, impatient, and continuing efforts of parents and policy-makers as it does on reinventing the economic formulas by which successful education policy is measured.


I would like to thank Stacie Colwell, Tim Leinbach, and Rakesh Rajani for their insightful comments and continuous encouragement on this project.

References & further reading

Bureau of Statistics (1995). Selected Statistics Series: 1951-1992. Dar es Salaam: President's Office, Planning Commission.

Bureau of Statistics and Macro International Inc. (1997). Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey 1996. Calverton, MD: Bureau of Statistics and Macro International.

Knodel, J. & Jones, G. (1996). "Post-Cairo Population Policy: Does Promoting Girls' Schooling Miss the Mark?" in Population and Development Review 22 (4), pp 683-702.

Ministry of Education (1986). Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania (BEST) 1981-1985. Dar es Salaam: Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education and Culture (1995). Education and Training Policy. Dar es Salaam: Ministry of Education and Culture.

Nyerere, J. (1968). Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism. Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press.

Raikes, P. & Gibbon, P. (1996). "Tanzania" in Limits of Adjustment in Africa: The Effects of Economic Liberalization, 1986- 94. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pp 215-307.

Samoff, J. (1990). "`Modernizing' a Socialist Vision: Education in Tanzania" in Carnoy, M. & Samoff, J., eds. Education and Social Transformation in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Pp 209-273.

UNICEF (1999). Children in Jeopardy: The challenge of freeing poor nations from the shackles of debt. New York, NY: UNICEF.

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