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History of Education in Tanzania

Sunday, January 29, 2017 9:03 AM | Emma Hill

Tanzania has undergone extensive changes, from multi-tribal society, to German and then British colony, and finally an independent republic. Education in Tanzania has changed just as extensively over time. In modern Tanzania, education has been a central interest for public policy and national advancement. The pre-eminent scholar of Tanzanian pedagogy is Dr. Philemon Mushi. A link to his work can be found at the bottom of this post.  


In the pre-colonization, tribal Tanzania, education varied widely from tribe to tribe, and was partial driven by tribal identity and then later by the two expanding religions, Christianity and Islam. While cultural norms varied in each tribe, these tribes valued education as a means of preserving their cultural values, skills, and codes of behavior. When Islam and Christianity began spreading through the region in the 19th century, these competition religions both heavily emphasized education as a means to secure cultural and ideological influence. These religious schools taught literacy & cultural values as a means of gathering converts and projecting influence. They did not seek to end regional illiteracy, rarely educated women, and often made race distinctions based on tribal affiliation.

Map of modern day Tanzania

During the colonial period, (1880-1961) colonial administrators expanded on the pedagogical foundation established by Christian schools. However, these schools sought to promote colonial, rather than religious interests. The German & British colonists needed the locals to accept and support their demand for raw materials and cheap labor. Education, (again, lacking gender, class and tribal equity) was used to legitimize colonial rule of first the Germans, then the British.

After independence, (1961) the education policies were driven by political needs. Like most newly independent states, it's people and government were highly idealistic, had dreams of a just, modern, independent nation with a growing a stable economy. Yet just after colonization, Tanzania's fledgling government faced huge obstacles. It's estimated that 85% of the population was illiterate, as well as extremely poor. Hunger, widespread diseases, low average life expectancy (37), and high infant & maternal mortality rates were also major obstacles. Periodic droughts, food shortages, and limited access to international aid further complicated matters. The Tanzanian government and a number of local and international NGOs had to recreate the educational system to build up a literate work force. 90% of the population lived in rural areas, and used hand tools to produce food crops and cash crops. By necessity, the rural population would be the driving factor of the new economy, and yet they were so scattered, that it was very difficult to extend the social services needed to improve their living conditions and agricultural productivity. Political leaders of the time emphasized that independence only gave people the option to improve their lives, not a guarantee. If people wanted better for themselves and their children, they would have to be educated in order to understand their situation and participate in civic discourse.



Adult education was critical for the new nation. Adult education in the 60's and 70's emphasized self reliance, self development and community development. These programs taught literacy, numeracy, nutrition, hygiene, agricultural practices and national ambitions. Villages across Tanzania were encouraged to engage in their own development projects, roads, schools, and other infrastructure, but these efforts were highly uncoordinated. Adult education programs repeatedly addressed the need for increased agricultural productivity, and President Nyerere eventually cribbed his plan for Folk Development Colleges from the Swedish system of Folk High Schools. 

In the 80's and 90's education policies shifted to focus on the growing demands of globalization and the needs of a modern society. In the late 90's, children and girls became increasingly important. Female literacy rates were correlated with other coveted social economic statistics, like lower mortality rates, and higher economic growth.  Our own Saving Grace School ensures that young children and girls from impoverished families are given a quality education. 


Naomi                                                                     Gift 

Saving Grace students aren't just taught academics, but social skills as well. Here we see two of our students learning to confidently show what they've learned.  

Many of the challenges that plagued Tanzania after independence are still prevalent, and education is still seen as the key toward long-term, sustainable improvement. The current education policies focus on increasing teacher training standards, increasing total primary enrollment, increasing girls' primary school enrollment, and increasing secondary school graduation rates. Our Saving Grace Day and Boarding School focuses on younger students, and ensuring they have the foundational skills to succeed in secondary school. Many NGOs also emphasize the need for business, entrepreneurial and legal rights education so that women and men can build and maintain a diverse range of businesses and fully participate in civic discourse.

 Here we see Saving Grace students practicing their writing.  

Source: History and Development of Education in Tanzania :



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