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Overcrowded classrooms mar Zanzibar success in education

AS nursery, primary and secondary schools open after almost three months of closure due to COVID-19 pandemic, the main concern in Zanzibar will be overcrowding in primary school classrooms.

Many classrooms particularly in primary schools are overcrowded due to sharp increase in the number of pupils due to implementation of free education policy overwhelm available facilities. Some classes accommodate more than 200 students with a single or three teachers to manage the students.

According to the Director of Pre-Primary and Primary Education, Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Ms Safia Ali Rijali, schools are overwhelmed by a big number of children who have been enrolled since free education policy was revived.

“It is admirable success, with challenges. Enrolment of children has surpassed our targets,” she says. “In both nursery and primary schools, we were supposed to have 35 to 60 students in each classroom, but have more than 200 students in a class in some schools,” She said in some schools such as Kinuni and Mtopepo primary schools, Standard One pupils range between 100 and 300.

The same concern was raised by Zanzibar President, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein in his speech before dissolving House of Representatives to pave the way for the 6th General elections later this year. He said despite achievement in education, overcrowded classrooms in primary schools were a challenge.

Increased number of pupils also prompted some schools to have separate shifts in the morning and afternoon, as the government plans to build new blocks to accommodate them. Dr Shein has directed the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training to find a way of observing social distancing in classes at this time when COVID-19 is still a problem.

“President John Pombe Magufuli announced June 29, 2020 students to get back to school, we also in Zanzibar follow-suit. But you must ensure health precautions are observed because COVID-19 is still with us. We are easing restrictions after gaining success against the pandemic, but it is not yet over,” Dr Shein said.

Zanzibar government bought 44,620 tables and chairs at a cost of 2.9bn/- from China this year for use in secondary schools. They are currently being distributed to different schools in Unguja and Pemba Islands and it is estimated that at least 88,520 students in secondary will benefit.

Secondary schools will still have a deficit of 17,950 seats. The purchase of furniture was a result of nationwide campaign launched by President Ali Mohamed Shein in April 2017 to fundraise for enough desks in schools, beginning with secondary schools.

The government decided to purchase the furniture from China because it is cheaper to buy there by 10 per cent compared with the price at home or in Tanzania Mainland. The decision to purchase the desks from China was also taken in consideration of forest conservation.

Other recorded achievements in education development include the increase of the number of primary schools from 299 with 226,812 students in 2010 to 381 schools with 290,510 last year, while secondary schools increased to 287 with 135,519 in 2019 from 105 with 80,008 students in 2010.

“We have done a lot in developing education sector in the country which include construction of 22 modern centres (Hubs) with labs for science and technology innovation along with computer laboratory, and libraries.”

The government under Shein also purchased schools materials which include learning equipment, text books for students in different levels, and lab for learning practices. The President says education sector is now better than in the past decade.

In January 2014 when Zanzibar marked its 50th anniversary of the revolution, President Ali Mohamed Shein announced the revival of ‘Free Education Policy (FEP)’ after at least three decades of trembling in implementation as parents were asked to contribute (pay some fees).

Implementation of the FEP resulted in significant increase in enrolment in all schools, but congestion in classrooms, limited learning facilities and shortage of qualified teachers, tarnish the achievement.

The ‘new’ free education being implemented concurrently with ‘new’ structure of 2-6-4 (two years of mandatory nursery school, six years of primary, and four years of secondary) instead of the 2-7-2 (two years of optional kindergarten, seven years of mandatory primary school, and two years of compulsory secondary.

Nursery school was incorporated as among the compulsory education following the approval of the reviewed education policy approved in 2006, but the implementation was real after Dr Shein pushed for it now. The establishment of nursery schools has increased from 238 in 2010 to 279 alongside training of nursery school teachers.

There are also about 244 private nursery schools, an additional advantage for parents to take their children to school. Despite problem of congestion, parents are encouraged to ensure that all children including ‘With Disability’ are taken to school to study because education remains vital for the development of individuals and nation.

The Minister for education and vocational training Ms Riziki Pembe Juma says that the country’s move to strengthen FEP is as par Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that ‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.

Elementary education shall be compulsory…’ She urged teachers and parents to collaborate in ensuring children remain in school to complete at least the basic education (i.e. from nursery to form IV), emphasizing that no child should be left behind in acquiring education.

Ms Juma further asked teachers to support their children learn/study, and that they should not be heart-broken because of congestion and shortage of learning materials.

She said her office has been working closely with stakeholders and development partners like Milele Foundation, South Korea, OPEC, China, and the World Bank to increase space for children to learn by renovating of old buildings, complete the unfinished buildings, or construct new schools.

Primary school teacher such as Mr Yussuf Omar commends the government for its ongoing efforts in improving education in the country, “But the current challenges should be overcome. We need enough teaching materials and speedy action to solve congestion in classrooms.”

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