Thoughts on the Mass Form 4 Failures and Regrading

Tanzanian citizens and other education stakeholders have been vigorously debating the reasons and solutions for the mass failures in the 2012 examinations of Form IV students, since the announcement of the results at the beginning of this year. For the first time since the massive expansion in student enrollment capacity, mapped out by the Primary Education Development Plan (2002-06) and Secondary Education Development Plan (2004-09), there were not enough students who passed Form IV to meet the available placements in Form V. Classroom capacity, by every measure, was shown to have grown faster than the country’s teaching capacity could accommodate. Although clearly a shock to many in the nation, Tanzania’s rural secondary school teachers could hardly feign surprise.

As the Tanzania Policy Forum (including member organizations Sikika, TGNP, TenMet and Haki Elimu) pointed out, the abysmal results represented a deteriorating trend.

“[F]orm four national results have been steadily deteriorating; in 2009 for example 27.5 per cent of the candidates scored division zero, while in 2010 the number increased to 49.6 per cent though it was slightly better at 46.4 per cent in 2011 before increasing to 60.5 per cent in 2012. Between 2009 and 2011, 86.9 (per cent) of all the candidates who sat for the exam scored between division four and division zero. In the light of this trend, we believe that the grading system used is not the main reason behind the mass failure seen in 2012 (Statement on 2012 Form IV results).”

This trend of education quality devolution began in haste as the government began implementing its laudable ambition to place a primary school in every village, a secondary school in every ward, and a tertiary educational institution in every district. The correlate of this development policy in the health sector was a dispensary for every village, a health centre for every ward, and a hospital for every district. The quick successes in construction, however, were not matched in human resources.

As a biology teacher in a rural secondary school in the southern highlands from 2006-08, I saw the effects of this policy on the student-teacher ratio and the resulting declining quality of education. At the start of the 2007 school year, we accommodated 16 teachers with adequate housing, served approximately 350 students and though teaching capacity was strapped, most of us managed to just barely complete the syllabi with all of our streams. At the start of the 2009 school year, the school boasted only 8 teachers with an expanded student enrollment of 500. The recently constructed nearby ward secondary schools fared much worse, with incoming classes of 200 students and 2-3 teachers. The best teachers from the established ward schools became heads of school at the new schools. Instead of 350 students at one school with a fighting chance of covering the syllabus and receiving an adequate O-level secondary education, there were now 900 students at three schools and entire subjects unattempted, much less completed to a passing standard. Many teachers became busy as full-time custodians with limited opportunities for quality education. Other teachers took several months of leave per year to attend university in search of better employment opportunities. The result was that the incoming Form 1 class of 2009, after the completion of the Secondary Education Development Plan, never experienced a teacher-student ratio that was conducive to a learning environment. Upon reaching the end of Form II, the required national test had already been removed, and the class continued to proceed through the system, irrespective of education performance or attainment. Nationwide, it was the class of 2009 that failed the Form Four national examination in higher rates than any year previously.

Like the rest of the general public, I have no idea about the merits or demerits of the supposed grading system anomaly that was cited by the national assembly as the culprit for the horrible test scores and the rationale for regrading. However, even with the regrading, the results were not exceptionally better. Until schools have enough teachers to keep discipline, cover their syllabi, and remain motivated in the challenging work of educating Tanzania’s young women and men, I do not expect much better.

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Gay Rights in Tanzania

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent threat to withhold foreign aid from countries without a legal framework for ensuring gay rights has caused a stir in Tanzania. While other East African countries have been embroiled in this debate for many years, Tanzania has opted largely not to engage the issue. While parliamentarians in Uganda and Malawi have been whipped into homophobic frenzies, pressing for life-imprisonment and even death sentences for homosexuals, Tanzanian parliamentarians have largely demurred. While Anglican bishops in Kenya and Rwanda have made opposition to gay rights a central theological battleground, their Tanzanian counterparts have sidelined the issue, proclaiming it as not among their priorities. Given Tanzania’s diverse socio-ethnic make-up and its 50-year history of adaptive international cooperation, this should come as no surprise. To carve a national identity out of more than 215 tribal cultures and proactively engage with international partners of every political and religious stripe, Tanzanians have had to become adept at ignoring divisive moral issues to reach a broader consensus. Nevertheless, the public chastisement by the former colonial government has drawn a sharp rebuke from President Kikwete and given license to indignant editorializing from prominent Tanzanians that their cultural and moral values are not for sale.
Were the United Kingdom to begin consistently applying universal standards of human rights and good governance as preconditions for all foreign aid (humanitarian and military alike), I would welcome the measure. Even with that goal in mind, however, Cameron’s tactics have to be regarded as misguided at best. If his purpose were indeed to improve the social status and legal protections for gay men and women, there were far more constructive alternatives available than scolding and threats. It was reported in the Guardian newspaper that the British government had been attempting to place an openly homosexual diplomat and her partner within the country for some time. Having failed in this engagement, closed door diplomacy on the matter was completely abandoned in favor of the current public relations battle between the Prime Minister and African presidents throughout the continent. Again, were I to believe that this signaled a new concern from the U.K. to draw strict moral lines on the issue of foreign aid and human rights, I would support the stance. However, it seems rather as though the Prime Minister was looking for a strategy both to cut the foreign aid budget and to placate the political left in his country. Eliminating all bilateral aid from the U.K. to Tanzania for this reason has the potential to exacerbate prejudice, hatred and misunderstanding of the issue. Given no opportunity to improve gay rights without looking weak in the face of pressure from the former colonial government, chances are now higher that the political leadership in Tanzania could fall into the easy political trap of demonizing homosexuality and equating it with imperialistic decadence. Britain may very well be able to take its money and go home, but where does that leave the rest of us who wish to see the issue of gay rights in Tanzania discussed in open, rational, scientifically-informed fora?
Sitting at a popular lunch spot in downtown Dar es Salaam, reading the front page story about Cameron’s threat, two strangers sharing my table drew me into discussion on the matter. They wanted to clarify to me as a foreigner that Tanzanians were universal in their cultural rejection of homosexuality and that official sanction of homosexual behavior would have disastrous consequences (though the nature of these consequences was never clarified). I suggested that before the spread of monotheism, there was a great deal of diversity in sexual prohibitions among Tanzania’s multitude of ethnic groups and that same-sex sexual behavior was not in every instance regarded as a criminal violation against the community. Moreover, I continued, same-sex sexual behavior not only exists among every mammalian species, but in every human population on the planet. Official recognition I therefore argued was unlikely to significantly change the number of people engaging in homosexual behavior, only the visibility and dignity of it. I then explained that I had yet to hear a cogent argument about the tangible social ills that supposedly stemmed from homosexuality.
One of the lunch debaters communicated a strongly negative visceral response to homosexuals and said he would “slash someone” he thought to be gay, slicing his hand through the air for emphasis. Interestingly the only outcome of the official sanction for homosexual behavior that he could envisage was its potential popularity. “We Africans are likely to copy and practice this behavior,” he said, shaking his head and shuddering at the thought. Visibly communicating less physical discomfort at this subject matter, my other debate companion pursued a medical pathologizing approach. He insisted there was a single neuropeptide responsible for inducing homosexual behavior and described homosexual deviation as a genetic disorder. I countered that questions of hereditability or genetics were irrelevant to the evaluation of whether homosexuality was in any way injurious. Interestingly, he asked if I had ever seen a delivering mother who had injuries from anal sex. The idea that rough heterosexual anal sex was an argument against homosexuality struck me as too bizarre to let stand. I explained that not only did consensual anal sex not have to cause injury but that not all homosexuals had anal sex. Moreover, it was obvious from his very example that plenty of heterosexuals had anal sex and rough sex at that.
When I taught biology as a secondary school teacher in Tanzania, students often posed frank questions about anatomy, reproduction and human sexual behavior that revealed, what seemed to me, to be a shocking lack of basic knowledge about their own bodies. Clearly, this ignorance is not confined to the youth or even to rural or uneducated populations. If the U.K. truly wanted to engage Tanzania in a positive way that would contribute to the acceptance of gay rights, they would begin with sex education at the highest medical levels. Until the biological and medical elite can be swayed with the evidence from contemporary science and medicine that sanctions the current political case for gay rights, this influential population will remain a stumbling block. As long as ignorant, misinformation flows from the highest ranks of Tanzania’s scientific and medical elite, homophobia and other sex-negative postures will continue to dominate. Religious and political leaders are not likely to support gay rights, if it cannot even gain a foothold in the scientific and medical communities.

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Tanzanian Education Debate on Wikileaks

If you know anything about the debates over education in Tanzania, you’ve heard something about the organization Haki Elimu (Education Justice). There’s a great summary on Wikileaks from the former ambassador Retzler.

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A Light (Off) in August

Most of Dar es Salaam witnessed the return of a continuous, uninterrupted power supply throughout the entirety of last weekend. On Monday, it was back to power-cuts and business-as-usual. At least, the wananchi (citizens) could now wile away the workweek, with fantasies of luxuriating in electric lights, fans and refrigerated food all weekend-long. Perhaps the saving grace in Tanzania’s latest chapter of the energy crisis has been the simultaneous tipping point in power supply inefficiencies while the Bunge (parliament) is in session. There’s nothing like political wrangling over budgets and corruption allegations while the citizenry lashes out over shortfalls in basic infrastructure and government services. The government badly needed a win and immediately mandated a reduction in fuel prices. The unexpected consequence has now been that Fuel Stations are refusing to sell at the lower prices. Now, if the electricity cuts, there will be no fuel for the back-up generators. The solar market never looked so good.

The up-side to this whole story has actually been the role of the media. As the fuel stations began to turn off their pumps, the official stories widely diverged. Some claimed their pumps were broken; others averred that their supply had been exhausted. Thanks to the intercession of the media (and especially the radio stations), reports came out station by station about who was selling and for how much, who was not and what excuses they offered. Now the ball is back in the government’s court to ensure compliance with the new emergency price cuts or they will be faulted for making the already bad energy crisis even worse.

Fortunately, in Tanzania, there’s a robust political exchange between the ruling party and the opposition, making a decisive and quick solution more likely than not. No side will abide the political fallout of an inadequate national grid coupled with fuel shortages. Count on a swift and decisive government response and a chastened private sector.

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Kiswahili: a Beacon for East Africa

A welcome editorial appeared in today’s Citizen newspaper on the growing importance of Kiswahili in the East African region and throughout the continent. As I’ve argued repeatedly in this blog, Tanzania has a golden opportunity to embrace its Swahili heritage and further contribute to the development of Swahili literature through the educational system. Although English continues to act as the international language of science and business, other countries are nevertheless able to update and promote their vernacular languages to keep pace with these developments. As the only indigenous African language used in official proceedings of the African Union, the time is ripe to promote Kiswahili within Tanzania and throughout the continent. Naturally, the place to start is with the educational system and with the systematic use of Kiswahili from primary through tertiary education. Tanzania will never have the best English-language educational system in the world but it could have the best system in Kiswahili. However, with Kenyan students now performing better than Tanzanian students on standard 2 tests in Kiswahili, Tanzania’s pre-eminent position as the epicenter of Swahili language and culture is no foregone conclusion. There’s plenty of work ahead and the time to start is now!

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Wise Words from Tanzania’s Top Form 6 Student

From Tanzania’s Guardian newspaper (May 1, 2011):

An interview with Muhagachi Chacha, Tanzania’s top form 6 student in 2011
*Form 1-4 Ordinary-Level is roughly equivalent to grades 9-12 in the US
Form 5-6 Advanced-Level is roughly equivalent to junior college in the US

“Q: When you look at our school curriculum, what is missing?
A: I think we should be like the Chinese who use their own language to develop. The Chinese are about to outsmart the Americans because they use their own language in science and technology.
In Tanzania, Kiswahili should be encouraged, I know many people will oppose this, but it is a matter of fact that learning science and technologies using foreign languages is an obstacle to developing faster, because you need to toil first to master their languages before you can start learning their technological systems.”

I have belabored the point in this blog that the Tanzanian educational system leaves students behind by using the English medium of instruction. I am glad to see that even the most successful student under this system agrees.

On a personal aside, I was also overjoyed to learn that a former biology student of mine, Amos Brighton, was one of only 11 students this year to earn an “A” on the Form 6 Biology Exam. In addition to congratulating Amos on his hard work and perseverance, I want to thank the organization that has been supporting his A-level education, The Olive Branch for Children. For more than 5 years, the Olive Branch for Children has been saving lives and empowering women and children in the face of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and in preparing Tanzania for a brighter future. Asanteni sana na hongera!

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A Few Words on the Intervention in Libya

After opposing the democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the Obama administration appears desperate to make up for its missteps. Enter Libya. Now the US is leading air strikes against Qaddafi’s forces and making diplomatic overtures to the self-proclaimed opposition leaders. Ignoring for the moment that Obama is still failing to support the grassroots democratic struggles in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Ivory Coast, etc., the question of military intervention in Libya is being debated across the political spectrum, irrespective of sympathies for Qaddafi.

As someone who cringed every time Obama spoke about accommodation of Mubarak and dismissal of the revolution in Tahrir Square, I nevertheless oppose the US military intervention in Libya. So, what’s my problem? Today I read an assessment of the “Left” opposition by the Nation’s Juan Cole:

“An Open Letter to the Left on Libya” by Juan Cole in the Nation

“Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:

1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)

2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).

3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.”

Since Cole didn’t exactly state my main objection, I’d like to add a fourth to his list:

4. Absolute incompetence (policymakers in Washington, D.C. are clueless about Libya)

Will the US intervention hasten the defeat of Qadaffi’s army? Most likely.
Will the US intervention hasten a democratic revolution in the wake of this defeat? Don’t count on it.

A ridiculous hubris for which my country is famous will impel the US to “take action” in the wake of military action to “support the rebels.” All of which ignores the fact that no one in Washington has any idea who the “rebel leaders” are, who supports them and why.

As Patrick Cockburn recently put it in an article on Counterpunch:

“The local leaders who rise to the top in these circumstances are usually those who speak the best English and get on with the US and its allies. In Baghdad and Kabul those who initially rose were those who fawned the most and who were prepared to go before Congress to express fulsome gratitude for America’s actions.”

This is typical for US missions in foreign countries, both diplomatic and military. Among host-country nationals, those with the best English-language and American-culture skills will prevail every time over those with the most local competence and legitimacy.

So, why should the US get out of Libya? For the same reason that bulls should be advised to stay away from china shops.

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Mass Form IV failures indicate need for Kiswahili language instruction

As reported in Tanzania’s Guardian newspaper, former Member of Parliament for Kalenga, George Mlawa, has called for Tanzanian secondary schools to adopt Kiswahili as the language medium of instruction. Following the excessively large number of Form IV (equivalent of high school senior) failures in last year’s national examinations, it is time to reassess the current policy of English-language instruction. This remains an unpopular position among Tanzania’s foreign development partners who too often confuse English language mastery with competence. It is especially for their benefit that I reiterate the following defense of switching the language of instruction in Tanzanian secondary schools from English to Kiswahili.

The Future of Secondary Education in Tanzania
Kiswahili or English?

The question of whether to use Kiswahili or English as the language medium of educational instruction in Tanzania has been long debated. Following the guidance set down by Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere himself, Tanzania has pursued a middle path, striving for universal, Kiswahili-language primary schooling while offering an increasingly growing segment of the population with English-language secondary and tertiary education. Many argue, however, that it is time for a change.

Those who favor English language instruction at every educational level, point to the broader East African community’s acceptance of English-language education, with even formerly Francophone Rwanda joining the ranks of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi. Those who wish to see even Tanzania’s primary schools one day switch to English-language instruction imagine that such a move will help to usher Tanzania into the global marketplace, competing with the likes of India and China with its own skilled, English-language workforce. These proponents of English-language education have their eyes firmly fixed on cities like Dar-es-Salaam and Arusha, cities flush with money and personnel from the English-language dominated Tourism and Aid industries. To chart the country’s development path along these lines, however, is as naïve to the realities of economic development as it is disrespectful to the legacy of Kiswahili in its continued shaping of Tanzanian civil society.

From the colonial era through the end of the twentieth century, secondary schools remained essentially elite institutions, training Tanzania’s primary school teachers and government workforce. Tanzania’s majority rural population entered agricultural and pastoral work with only primary school education and many without even that. Primary education was designed to provide the foundations for civil society, teaching all Tanzanians their history, civic rights and responsibilities, a basic understanding of the tools of mathematics and science, the national language of Kiswahili, and the beginnings of English to communicate in an international context. In some of these goals, Tanzanian primary schools have succeeded; in others, they have failed. Among most Standard 7 (final year of primary school) leavers who qualify for secondary school and begin Form 1, most have a high level mastery of Kiswahili and a keen understanding of their government and its history. However, the overwhelming majority arrive at secondary school with abominably poor mathematics skills, virtually no understanding of the methods and processes of scientific investigation and little more than a handful of English words and phrases.

In this twenty-first century, secondary schools are no longer the elite institutions they once were. Rapid school expansion is quickly closing in on President Kikwete’s promise to put a secondary school in every ward in the country. School enrollments are double what they were several years ago. Secondary schools are no longer simply training the government and business leaders of the big cities. They are training farmers, herders, craftworkers, and small-scale entrepreneurs who will continue to live and work in the communities where they were educated.

The average secondary school student who will continue to live and work in the village can nevertheless potentially get a great deal out of a secondary education. The tools of mathematics and science, if properly used, can help farmers, herders and craftworkers to maximize their yields, profits and savings. Rather than simply copying the economic models around them, critical thinkers can evaluate their surroundings empirically, can test alternatives, and can evaluate the results to their own benefit and to the benefits of their families, friends and neighbors. Surely, this is the meaning of “Education for Self-Reliance,” as Mwalimu Nyerere propounded, the ability to use local resources to create sustainable, effective, income-generating projects. This requires no hand-outs from foreign NGOs, no expensive foreign experts in brand new Land Cruisers, and certainly does not require fluency in English. It requires only the critical thinking skills and collaborative efforts of an educated workforce. While secondary schools are capable of this task, they fail at it miserably, in every region, district and ward in the country.

Sitting in Dar, Arusha or even some of the middle-sized towns such as Dodoma, Morogoro or Njombe, the state of secondary education still seems relatively positive. Qualified teachers are widely available (if still often overworked) and resources are plentiful (if not fully accessible by every student). It is in the small towns and villages that the disgraceful state of secondary education and the absurdity of mandating English-language instruction becomes clear. In the larger of the outlying village secondary schools, those schools in district or ward capitals yet still far from the tarmac roads are demonstrably worse now than they were even 3 years ago. For the past 3 years, these schools have watched their enrollments nearly double while their workforce has been cut in half. Their senior teachers have been sent off to become headmasters at the newly built schools even further off the beaten path. These schools used to be able to teach all their periods or were at least just a few teachers shy of being able to achieve that goal. Now there are not even enough teachers to have one per subject for student enrollments exceeding 400 and 500 students. Now, these teachers can do little more than keep discipline and order and the only students who manage to succeed are the ones who mostly teach themselves.

The situation of few qualified teachers, high student enrollments and minimal school resources would be equally challenging in any part of the world. Indeed, this is not a problem limited to Tanzania. Moreover, there are plenty of other countries with fewer teaching facilities and higher student to teacher ratios. Mandating English-language instruction under these conditions however has made an already difficult and challenging environment entirely unable to fulfill even its most basic mandate. Even as police and armed security guards use excessive force to extract taxes from reluctant villagers for new school construction, there are still not enough teachers for minimal staffing needs. Quality standards for both teachers and students have plummeted. Secondary school teachers need only be form 6 leavers with a 3-week teacher training course. Students need no longer make any pretence of passing classes to advance through the ranks. After passing their primary school Standard 7 exam, a student can enter Form 1, fail every class, continue on to Form 2, fail every class, fail the national exam, continue on to Form 3, fail every class, continue on to Form 4, fail every class, fail the national exam and still qualify as a Form 4 leaver. As long as a student pays their fees and does not get pregnant, mere persistence with no academic effort can secure a secondary school degree in Tanzania today. This is shameful and a national embarrassment. Moreover, it does not need to be this way.

While the desire to increase secondary school access for Tanzanian students is an admirable one, the quality of those schools cannot be allowed to suffer anymore in the process. On top of the under-supplied schools, under-trained teachers and under-prepared students, there is the issue of English-language instruction. Even with the best available, thoroughly English-language fluent teachers, the expectation that primary school students with little English experience should enter secondary school and take instruction for all subjects in English is unreasonable. Educational research has long shown that students’ skills and capacities are varied in any classroom setting. An aptitude for foreign languages, while a valuable skill in itself, is not so important as to stake the entire secondary educational system on its mastery. All of those students who might otherwise excel in mathematics, the natural and social sciences or even the non-English humanities but do not have a particular aptitude for foreign languages are being cheated out of an education. Instead of graduating critical thinkers, well-prepared citizens and workers who may or may not perform well in English, Tanzania is producing a generation of students who have spent countless hours memorizing words and phrases they do not understand taught to them by teachers with little understanding themselves. While the current system would still largely fail were it staffed with thoroughly fluent English-language teachers, the grim reality is that English fluency even among secondary school teachers is poor indeed. Perhaps the best illustration of this comes from the National Examinations Council of Tanzania (NECTA) itself.

Every year NECTA issues examinations for Form 2 and Form 4 full of awkward and poorly constructed English sentences, low-quality representational drawings (especially problematic in the Biology exam), and questions that contain a disturbing range of over-simplified generalizations, petty definitions, excessively difficult arcana, and downright inaccuracies. That poorly-prepared students should have to take such poor-quality tests only adds insult to injury. While the English-language medium is not the sole cause of NECTA’s poor performance in the creation of its O-Level examinations, it is a strong contributing factor. The lack of English-fluency of most of the relevant stakeholders (students, their parents and teachers) keeps them from recognizing how bad these tests actually are. By hiding under the cover of the English language, the NECTA test writers escape criticism and accountability for their abysmal performance year after year. If these tests were written in Kiswahili, poorly worded or inaccurate questions would be noticed everywhere and NECTA would be held accountable. As is, there is no opportunity for democratic participation in the process. Either Tanzania needs to hire outside contractors who can actually command the English language to write and grade these tests or else the entire enterprise needs to be abandoned and replaced with Kiswahili-language material.

With so few secondary and tertiary educational materials written in Kiswahili, how can the educational system possibly make this change? This question, though often posed, misses an important alternative. It is quite possible to use foreign language materials in a native-language educational environment. Take for instance Sweden, whose population and language are much smaller than Tanzania’s by comparison. While Sweden has been able to incorporate foreign language study into its curriculum from early primary education onwards, Swedish is used as the medium of instruction for all other subjects from nursery school through to university. There is no reason why Tanzanian students could not use English (or even French, German or Arabic) books in secondary and tertiary education while still allowing teachers to teach in Kiswahili and students to take tests in Kiswahili. Achieving a “reading-level” knowledge of English can still be accomplished while allowing students to learn and express themselves in Kiswahili – a national language that is already the second or even third language learned for many students! As Tanzania looks ahead to the future of its secondary educational system, the time is ripe to ask, “Do we want to create the best Kiswahili educational system in the world, or one of the worst in the English-speaking world?” Elimu gani ni haki ya wananchi wote?

As Nyerere himself was at pains to demonstrate throughout his life, Kiswahili has the ability to express concepts every bit as poetically or precisely as found in any European language. Unlike virtually every one of its neighboring countries, Tanzania has been able to unite numerous and disparate religious and ethnic groups under one national identity and one national language. To discount and dismiss this legacy in favor of an English-language identity will only undo the gains made by the generation that brought independence and further fracture the country along class lines. Tanzania has the chance to become the international center of a vibrant Kiswahili language and culture, spreading its influence throughout East Africa. However, if Tanzania turns away from its own heritage, why should any other country turn towards Tanzania? The choice is either to lead from a position of strength and experience or to follow from a position of weakness. Mpango gani ni haki ya wananchi wote?

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Back in Dar

After six months in southern Manyara at a faith-based regional referral hospital, I’m back in Dar. The dry, highland landscape of scattered foothills had only just turned to green as I packed up to move back. I have now traded the nightly call-and-response of the hyenas and dogs for the gently rolling waves of the Indian ocean on Dar’s south coast. Instead of working within a single hospital, I now find myself working with Ministry, regional and district health officials, with plans to work with 7 hospitals and many more health centres and dispensaries. As a senior project manager for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, I am working with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW) to pilot a Pay for Performance (P4P) scheme for the health sector in the Pwani (Coast) region. Modestly, we’re working to reward health workers for quality performance in reproductive and child health services. More ambitiously, we hoping to transform the way that Tanzanian pay structures operate.

As a secondary school teacher in a southern highlands village, I became aware of how difficult it could be to demand quality performance from teachers. Heads of school don’t have the power to hire and fire their teaching staff. They can submit formal complaints regarding teachers who routinely fail to teach, some of whom don’t show up for weeks at a time. I have never known this to produce any tangible result. Pay scales across all sectors are determined by education level and years of experience on the job. Individual institutions have little opportunity to provide incentives for quality performance at work. Individuals may set good examples, they may persuade, but without the force of sanction or reward. In education, the result may be children sitting in unstaffed classrooms for most of the day, either dutifully copying notes passed from one generation of students to the next or else amusing themselves in non-academic pursuits in or out of the classroom. In healthcare, the result may be neglected patients who fail to heal, catch new diseases in the wards or even die.

Both the education and health sectors are overtaxed, with insufficient human resources to fulfill their mandates. There is therefore a natural resistance to firing staff who will likely not be replaced. Energetic, self-motivated staff may be easily discouraged working alongside delinquent colleagues who earn the same or more than they do. Of course there is nothing unique to Tanzania in all of this. When I talk to Tanzanian friends and colleagues in education and health, this seems to be one issue on which people agree. Everyone says that these jobs need to pay more. They also say that paying more for good results will produce the desired effect. “Look at the private schools,” a teacher friend of mine opined, “they pay almost twice what the government schools pay and they hire and fire every year. They only keep teachers who can get their students to pass the national examinations and they succeed where we fail.”

In healthcare, failure can mean death. Inadequate care and attention can lead to misdiagnosis, mistreatment or sepsis. If patients knew their rights and could afford lawyers, our facilities would be bankrupted from malpractice litigation. The situation is dire but is not beyond hope. We have skilled professionals who care about the quality of their work in every facility I have known. These are the individuals that need to be singled out, made as examples, and rewarded for their hard work.

I’m looking out now onto the beach where only 3 nights ago the skies were lit up as bombs exploded and echoed all along the horizon. Our health care workers are still tending to the wounded and displaced and will be for some time. These workers are our first line of response against physical harm in all of its forms. If I can play any part in helping the best of them get recognized for their achievement, the move back to Dar will have been all the more rewarding.

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Late in the Dry Season

Clouds, a light sprinkling of rain and even thunder continue to meander, threaten and tease their way through the air around Haydom. But it’s all for show. Sitting in my living room, looking out into the garden, it’s easy to forget how dusty it still is everywhere else. Easy for me, that is. Jessica hasn’t forgotten that we’re practically in the desert. Then again, I’m the one with the well-trained tunnel vision. The soil is rocky and dry but rich. Daily watering has sprouted purple flowers on our front stoop and lettuce and broccoli sprouts in the back garden. The birds are bright and colorful, of varying sizes and songs. Despite the hospital gardener’s scarecrow-like creations, they spend the day flying down from the fruit trees to pick through the seeds and bugs in the garden beds. Watching them in the morning over a cup of coffee or squatting in the garden beds sorting through rocks and weeds, it’s all incredibly peaceful to me. As much as my skin prefers the humidity, it’s wonderful to be out of Dar and back in the bush.
One more month, maybe two, and then the rains will come. Green, grass, mud, mangoes and all the rest. But there are still some pleasures to be taken late in the dry season. Sean and Dahiana should be arriving at the Kilimanjaro international airport sometime in the next couple hours and spending time relaxing in the lush surroundings of Ngare Sero before we drive up to meet them and bring them down to Tarangire. I hear this is the best time of the year. With the water sources dried up throughout the surroundings, the animals migrate to Tarangire. You can sip cocktails poolside and watch the elephants.

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