There have been questions and endless debate on the fate of the Tanzanian education sector, following poor performance in recent years. The government, for its part, has been applying efforts to curb the situation, in line with private sector efforts. According to academicians, activists and certain politicians, the trouble with the education sector has been caused by poor working conditions for teachers. There has been poor remuneration, a lack of books, early pregnancies, a lack of conducive classrooms and school buildings (including teachers’ houses), as well as a lack of other teaching aides.
In 1992 the literacy rate was 84 per cent for the Tanzanian population aged 13 years and above. Today the literacy rate in Tanzania is estimated at 73 per cent. Apart from all other challenges, it has been established that one of the main problems leading to poor performance is hunger. Most students (especially those in primary schools) have beenexperiencing hunger while at school. In response, the Tanzanian and Finnish governments, working in collaboration with the World Bank, has established a special programme for feeding children at schools. However, in some areas of the country, Finland has been funding the children feeding through a non-profit organisation called ‘Feed the Children’ - which has expanded its operations from a modest start with only three schools in 2008, to support for tens of schools listed in the programme today. And progress has been evident. Since the programme commenced, there have been significant improvements in students’ performance, as well as attendance.
Feeding students' appetite for knowledge
Deputy Minister for Education in the Prime Minister's Office, Regional Administration and Local Government (Tamisemi), Mr Kassim Majaliwa told this writer that, since the establishment of the programme, there has been a big improvement in the education sector in the country. Mr Majaliwa had previously acknowledged that the poor attendance among students led to poor performance at the end of each academic term.
“We are now cherishing success through feeding children at school programme, there have been an increase of students enrollment, attendance and even performance,” Mr Majaliwa said. It is acknowledged that many students fail to attend classes because they could not stay at school without eating for more than six hours - and school hours have been adapted to suit. Primary school students in Tanzania, for example, start classes at around 8am and return home at around 2pm. The Deputy Minister said, “We are glad the programme enables students to study contentedly. It is very difficult for students to understand their teachers in class if their stomachs are empty.”
In 2011, while launching a sustainable school feeding programme at Mengwa Primary School in Kisarawe district, Coast Region, Finnish Ambassador to Tanzania Ms Sinnika Antila commended the programme, saying it would enable students to study in a conducive environment. She reported that the Finnish were committed to supporting the project and that it has set aside Sh200mn (US$120,000) for the programme.
“It would be better if this programme would be applied widely,” she added.
Playing a big role in educational improvement
Feed the Children country director Mr Mathew Ngwahi commented that the Finnish and Feed the Children Tanzania support the programme through funding and expertise. The Coast region Special Seats MP Ms Zainab Vullu (CCM), who played a big role on introducing ‘Feed the Children’ to Kisarawe district and other parts of Coast region, said the programme has enabled the planting of at least one acre of cassava for every school incorporated in the programme.
Ms Vullu said the Finnish have been a main sponsor and a reliable partner in boosting the education sector in the Coast region. Apart from supporting the food programme itself, Finland is sponsoring the planting of mango trees and cassava at schools. She added that, so far, 30 primary schools were already listed in the food programme in the Coast region.
“Each school has been enabled to plant at least 50 mango trees and one acre of cassava. This will support availability of food for children in future,” said Ms Vullu.
Commenting on the public response to the programme, the Deputy Minister said citizens have received the programme well, and that it was spreading to other areas of the country.
“It is quite clear that the programme has been received very well by citizens in various parts of the country. In some areas, parents are contributing cereals or some little amount of money to boost the programme,” said Mr Kassim Majaliwa - who also commended the Finnish government and all Finnish-based organizations for being concerned with the need for better quality of education in the country.
Mr Anaclet Sinzumwa, a teacher at Mwanalugale primary school in Coast region said the programme contributes fundamentally to good attendance and performance among student at schools where it is being carried out.
“A well-fed student is always happy and active. He or she cannot sleep in class. I therefore commend Finnish government and its organisations that support this programme, as well as ‘Feed the children’ in Tanzania.
Improving concenration, attendance, and understanding
A specialist doctor based in Handeni district, Tanga region, Dr Erick Josiah told this writer that the programme boosted academic performance, since a well-fed student manages to concentrate in class. He added that, psychologically, a child who is poorly fed cannot grow well, that his or her brain becomes dormant and thus the child exhibits poor concentration in class.
“I commend and thank Finland for supporting this programme in Coast region. We should understand that a hungry child cannot concentrate and listen to the teacher. He or she always thinks about food and other things of such nature,” he said.
Furthermore, Dr Josiah posed a challenge to the public and the Government of Tanzania to construct water wells at schools, so that students could get safe and clean water at their compounds.
“The programme is doing great, but we have a water challenge at most of schools in Tanzania. Therefore, students spend a lot of time trekking far to fetch water for cooking and washing cooking utensils. They therefore waste learning and studying time,” said Dr Josiah.
However, as with Finnish support, gutters and tanks have been allocated at various schools in the Coast region for rainwater harvesting and anti-worms drugs have been provided to children from time to time. Mr Edson Kamugisha, a teacher at Ilumba primary school, Ngudu district in Mwanza region, said the programme had helped to save time, since children do not have to go back home for food, as had been the case previously.
“Before the programme, we were forced to allow students to go home at around 12pm for lunch, but today they get food at school and proceed with studies," he said - and added that teachers were also teaching comfortably because students understand quickly, and can follow the given timetable.