I only arrived at home on Friday, and all I want right now is to go back. I’ve been sitting here for the last few days trying to decipher what I think are some of the lasting impressions that I have found to be most notable. I have a lot of lasting impressions about the trip, but they don’t all apply to the reason I was in Tanzania in the first place: teaching. I’ve decided I enjoy the way of life in Arusha better than in America, and I’d probably move there if the salary for teachers wasn’t so low; I have the lasting impression that people in Tanzania are far more likely than Americans to help those in need even if they have nothing themselves; etc, etc. However, I feel this post should be more about what impressions I’ve taken away about education in Tanzania.
One impression that I came to hold in Tanzania, and still believe, is that making families pay for an education isn’t such a bad thing. Now, hold up. Doesn’t this go against one of the core tenets of education here in America? Yes. It absolutely does because it is an American belief that education should be free and accessible for all persons. I also recognize that there are families that would struggle to come up with the necessary funds to put there children through school. However, the people in Tanzania come up with the money to put their kids through at least primary school, even if they have far less than a poor family in America, and it’s required by law that they at least put their children through primary school. Why in the world would I support the idea of making families pay for the children’s education? Because the kids care more about their education when their families have to pay for it. Obviously, this is not the case for every student. Many American students care a lot about their education, and many Tanzanian students don’t take their education as seriously as they should. On the whole though, I believe that the Tanzanian students that I worked with were much more dedicated to their education than most American students that I’ve come across, both those that I have known while I was in school and those that I have had the pleasure of working with. We see this with students who work hard in college who didn’t try in high school. If you ask them why they’ve changed their work ethic, you will almost always receive a variant of the response “because now I have to pay for school.” I think if students in America had to pay for their education as well, then they may be more inclined to try harder in school.
Another lasting impression that I took away from this trip is that what we as teachers think is the best way to instruct our students isn’t necessarily the actual best manner of instruction. Some of my colleagues found that when they tried to instruct students in a manner that was more interactive with the students, the students struggled to take the learning away from the lesson that the instructors wanted. It wasn’t that the teachers weren’t doing a very good job or the material was too difficult, but the issue was that students in Tanzania are used to being instructed in a manner that is a bit different than how we are taught to teach students in America. Teaching in Tanzania is mostly comprised of teachers lecturing their students and a great deal of note taking while the American system is mostly comprised of interaction between the teacher and students in a way that assumes both groups are able to teach each other and that learning can take on a variety of forms. Students generally learn best in a manner that makes sense to them, and a more lecture-based approach to instruction was what the students were used to, so this was better for a number of them. Does this mean students in Tanzania are incapable of learning from a more interactive method of education? Of course not. Just as American students can still learn in a lecture, Tanzanian students can learn in an interactive setting. Also, the Tanzanian students became better acquainted with the style of interacting and instruction of the American-style lessons the more they were exposed to it. Either way, students react well to methods that they understand and are well-acquainted with.
One final lasting impression that I took away from my time in Tanzania was that teaching must be considered a respectable profession for the benefit of both the teachers and the students. While students did respect their teachers very highly, teachers did not always respect their positions in the way that American teachers respect their positions. Teachers do not need to endure a great deal of intensive schooling in Tanzania in order to earn a certificate that allows them to teach. Some schools only require a year of university to acquire the necessary certification with no fieldwork. A number of the teachers that I encountered in Tanzania were only teaching until they could finish the university and get a job in a different field. Also, because teaching isn’t paid very highly and since it isn’t one of the positions that is currently being highly demanded, it isn’t being respected nearly as much as it should. There is a shortage of qualified teachers because not many people want to be in the schools. Because of this shortage, teachers in Tanzania can get away with a lot more than teachers in America can. They can not show up to their classes, and there is no consequence. Sometimes, teachers will randomly pull half of a class to teach them a different subject than they are supposed to be learning. A teacher may pull half of a history class to teach them accounting (I actually had this happen to me). This type of behavior would not fly in America. I think a great deal of why this is is because it is a far more respected position in the U.S. than in Tanzania. I think this respect is necessary for effective teaching.