The Educational Dilemma in Tanzania: Quantity Over Quality?

For the duration of the colonial past of Tanzania, the ability to decide how to educate their citizens was largely out of the hands of Tanzanians. With Tanzania’s independence from colonial predecessors, the country has taken steps to develop functional education systems designed for and by their own citizens. Access to education in Africa has, broadly speaking, risen sharply over the past decades. The primary gross enrolment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, rose by approximately 3.1% each year between 1999 and 2009. While this is promising, the African continent as a whole is still far from achieving universal primary education. The continent is even further from being able to offer quality education to every student, the focus of the UN’s new educational Sustainable Development Goal. Not only is educational quality a concern in Tanzania, but the ability to pinpoint the extent of the dilemma is often confounded by a lack of accurate data, given the difficulties of data-collection in numerous post-conflict or post-disaster countries. While recent foreign and domestic expenditures have increased educational access, it is becoming clear that educational access is not enough, and a serious conundrum of quality is plaguing Tanzania.

Consistently, educational research has proven the centrality of teacher-knowledge and experience in the quality of the education that children receive. On this note, there are disturbing trends in Tanzania, where at least 60% of Tanzanian teachers have only completed a primary education. It is not surprising then, that learning outcomes in classrooms where teacher knowledge is a considerable problem are well-below expected educational targets of skills including reading, writing and mathematics. Additionally, the working conditions of teachers influences their ability to teach to the best of their ability – a good example of this in some African countries is that of issues surrounding remuneration. In many instances, teachers are often put in situations where they are not paid on time. This forces them to take up second jobs that may contribute to them being absent from the classroom.

Beyond issues surrounding teaching in Tanzania, the physical environments of classrooms in the country are problematic. Studies have shown that schools with poor environments and inadequate resources including textbooks, blackboards or libraries are more likely to produce higher grade repetition and lower test scores. UNICEF states that “such factors as on-site availability of lavatories and a clean water supply, classroom maintenance, space and furniture availability all have an impact on the critical learning factor of time on task”. Problems of insufficient in-school resources ultimately detract from the learning experience, and are rife in Tanzania, particularly those schools located in remote rural communities. It is worth pointing out, that more expenditure on resources alone would not solve these problems. Despite increases in educational spending on resources between the 1970s and the mid-1990s, there was no complementary increase in academic performance. This is because the distribution of resources can be constrained by external factors and poor bureaucratic management within countries. This explains why there are such great variations in national test pass rates by region. In Tanzanian schools, particularly those in rural areas, infrastructural services including water, sanitation and electricity remain insufficient. The average number of pupils per classroom hovers at approximately 74. Estimates in urban schools are interestingly slightly higher.  It is also argued that “lack of basic education material may also be an important constraint for learning faced by children and teachers”. This is demonstrable in learning outcomes. According to results from a study of average scores in basic language and maths, fourth grade student scores were an average of 43% on language tests and 39% on mathematics tests. There was, however, a difference of approximately ten percentage points between rural and urban schools, which is indicative of the additional educational resources often available in urban areas.

Educational quality is essential to countries meeting their key educational goals. While Tanzania has seen surging enrolment rates, and while this is a step in the right direction, if the education is of poor quality, targets will continue to fail to be met. As Majgaard and Mingat state, “there is no simple way of improving learning outcomes; in particular, just spending more is not sufficient”. Weak learning outcomes, and the disparities that exist among countries and  within them, call for action.


Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1), 1–44.

Joshi, A., & Gaddis, I. (2015). Preparing the next generation in Tanzania: Challenges and opportunities in education. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Majgaard, K., & Mingat, A. (2012). Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Comparative Analysis. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Micheaelowa, K., & Wechtler, A. (2006). The cost-effectiveness of inputs in primary education: Insights from the literature and recent student surveys for Sub-Saharan Africa. Libreville, Gabon.

Mtahabwa, L., & Rao, N. (2010). International Journal of Educational Development Pre-primary education in Tanzania : Observations from urban and rural classrooms. International Journal of Educational Development, 30(3), 227–235.

Postlewaith, N. (1998). The conditions of primary schools in least-developed countries. International Review of Education, 44(4), 287–317.

Sachs, J. (2012). From Millenium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals. The Lancet, 379, 2206–2211.

UNICEF. (2000). Defining Quality in Education. Florence.

Featured image | Public school classroom in Tanzania | wikimedia commons


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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