Bricks in the Rain
By Josephat Mwanzi
In 2011 Tanzania received an award for attaining its UN Millennium Development Goal for universal education by the 2015 deadline. “A well-deserved recognition for a country that in a few years managed to increase primary school enrollment by more than 95 per cent,” Tanzania’s leading newspaper, The Citizen, commented.
It’s true Tanzania deserves praise for making positive steps in delivering education for all, but many challenges remain.
The situation in Tanzania’s primary schools is exasperating. Despite huge government and donor community funding, there are appalling shortages of classrooms and learning materials and a lack of enough qualified teachers in the majority of the country’s rural schools.
In the ward of Njaramatata, Namtumbo District, in Ruvuma region, southern Tanzania, there’s a primary school called Mitoronji, about 90 kilometers from the small town of Songea town. Two hundred and nineteen kids study here.
Being a student in Songea is tough. There are only four teachers, each with their own classroom, so Grades 5 and 6 have to share one room, and Grades 3 and 4 share another. The third room is used as a teachers’ office.
Overcrowding takes its toll. When a teacher comes in to teach Grade 5 pupils, those in Grade 6 have to remain in the same classroom and keep quiet.
Overcrowding in Songea’s school is touch for teachers too. “We’ve been in this situation for more than four years now,” says Daniel Njelekela, Mitoronji’s Head Teacher. “I recall one day, through this plan of mixing different grades in one classroom, I was teaching in Grade 5, one pupil from Grade 6 annoyed me by sneezing in the classroom as I taught because she was bored and slept. This caused me to panic and was forced to punish her.”
Faced with overcrowding, Mitoronji’s teachers have opted to drop entire subjects. “We don’t teach many topics effectively and we skip some. Pupils don’t get what they deserve from the curriculum. As a result even their performance in the national exams is poor,” says Anord Kapinga, adding that he has 40 classes per week instead of 12 as required.
At one point, local parents took matters into their own hands. Despite the fact that they themselves live in poverty, in 2009, parents manufactured 200,000 mud bricks for the construction of four new classrooms and two teachers’ houses. Having built all those mud bricks, the local authorities told them the classrooms would have to be built out of cement. Unfortunately, there was no cement. Requests from parents to provide the cement have come to naught.
“We consider the government and all its authorities as a mother we take pride in,” says Dickson Lugola. “For us parents, we’ve squeezed ourselves and made enough bricks … You can imagine since 2009 to date the government has been promising to back our efforts by providing cement so we can start the construction.”
So now, 200,000 mud bricks sit in a huge pile, slowly washing away in the rain. Songea village authorities are not happy with the situation. “We couldn’t do more than our best,” says Ladislaus Ndungulu, the village’s chairperson. “I mobilized the community to make bricks … We can only contribute manpower, but we can’t afford to buy iron sheets and cement. Most of us are poor.”
The situation Ladislaus describes is apparent when you move outside Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam. This is where most Tanzanians live, limping through life as best they can. Daniel Njelekela, the head teacher at Mukoroni school, in little Songea, has not given up hope. He says he will keep looking for resources to solve the problem.
“I have reported this challenge to all levels … in the government and in the district council,” says Njelekela. “They insist that the villagers should continue banking bricks so as when the money is available, the project can easily be accomplished. But there are hundreds of bricks in the field there … I will keep on knocking … and do whatever I can so we build the classrooms by using the resources we have, otherwise the parents will be demoralised to enrol their children.”