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Why Tanzania is facing a school dropout crisis

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The rising rates of dropout in Tanzanian classrooms, particularly in Standard Four and Form Two, have become a significant concern among education stakeholders. This worrying trend has sparked debates, prompting experts to delve into the underlying causes and suggest viable solutions. Central to this discourse is the impact of assessment exams and the punitive measures associated with failing and repeating classes.

Official 2022 data revealed that 56,361 Standard Four students and 53,932 Form Two students dropped out of school, making these classes the epicentre of the dropout crisis in the country. These classes coincide with national assessments, namely the Standard Four National Assessment (SFNA) and the Form Two National Assessment (FTNA). While these assessments are intended to gauge students’ understanding and guide their academic progress, many stakeholders perceive them as high-stakes national exams, contributing to the dropout dilemma.

Dr. Fatma Mwamba, an education researcher at the University of Dodoma, highlighted the adverse effects of the current assessment system. She explained that the pressure from these exams often leads to anxiety and disengagement among students. Moreover, the practice of compelling failed students to repeat a grade exacerbates the problem, pushing many to abandon their education altogether.

The geographic distribution of dropouts further sheds light on the issue, with regions like Geita and Mwanza bearing the brunt of the crisis. According to 2022 Basic Education data, Geita Region leads in dropouts with 21,596, followed by Tabora (21,481), Kagera (16,726), Mwanza (14,608), and Dodoma (13,208) for primary school, respectively. The total dropout rate for primary school was 193,605 (112,366 boys and 81,239 girls). For secondary schools, Mwanza led with more dropouts (9,097), followed by Geita (9,008), Dodoma (8,846), Tabora (8,153), and Simiyu (6,975), respectively. The total dropout rate for secondary schools was 136,313 (69,847 boys and 66,466 girls).

While some attribute the high dropout rates to external factors such as mining activities, experts caution against oversimplification. They argue that a myriad of factors, including socioeconomic disparities and the lack of extracurricular opportunities for every student, must be considered.

In response to the escalating crisis, the government, led by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology under Prof. Adolf Mkenda, has taken proactive measures. Recently, Prof. Mkenda announced the formation of a team of researchers tasked with investigating the root causes of the dropout phenomenon. However, experts argue that the government’s intervention must extend beyond surface-level investigations.

While forming a research team is a step in the right direction, a more nuanced understanding of the obstacles faced by students in each class is needed, according to an education lecturer from Tumaini University. This sentiment is echoed by an education policy consultant, Dr. Jane Mdoe, who emphasizes the need to reevaluate the purpose and structure of national assessments. She advocates for a comprehensive review of the assessment framework to ensure its alignment with the objectives of inclusive and equitable education.

Other education experts call for a shift away from the current exam-centric approach to a more competency-based education. Dr. Mdoe emphasized that while the government’s initiative to conduct research is a crucial first step, sustained efforts and collaborative action are essential to effect meaningful change.

 

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