Struggle to Regain Glory in Education: A Lasting Solution or just a Relentless Skirmish of a Drowning Person? On the 19th of January this year, Tanzania witnessed the inauguration of the second phase of the Secondary Education Development Program (SEDP II) that targets to improve secondary education in the country. Personally I just saw the news in the online social media and it is indeed important news that touched my inner most and sensitive part. By the way if you want to pull me easily out of my hideouts, just shout the word "education" rather than dropping a coin that normally justifies my heritage. When I glanced at the news, my memories glided back to reminisce the glorious era when the country had almost wiped out illiteracy and was hailed worldwide as a role model of success. Then while we were celebrating such lifetime achievements a drastic change kicked our behind and plunged the same fame into a shame. The saying "mfa maji haachi kutapatapa" has been our case ever since. We have seen a number of programs aiming at restoring the pride. Such programs included for instance the Education and Training policy (ETP), Integrated Community Based Adult Education (ICBAE), Complementary Basic Education in Tanzania (COBET), the Education Sector Development Program (ESDP), the ambitious goal of achieving education for all (EFA) by 2003, Education Sector Development Program (ESDP), just to mention a few. Although such struggles had some positive outcomes, they could not overshadow the surge and reclaim our old glory. Then here comes SEDP, a massive program that has a plan to assault our adversary (illiteracy) from the secondary education position. The question is, is this an effective approach and a lasting solution or just a relentless skirmish of a drowning being? What drew my attention though when I read the news was the pompous statements that blushed this momentous inauguration; - the first phase was successful/ the outcomes of the second phase will be realized in few years to come (one being the highest quality education)/ bla bla bla … / and last but not the least, the most common, famous and staunch statement – " don't listen to the critics …", a declaration that negates our motto – tupende kukosoa ama kukosolewa (willingness to criticize or to be criticized). Evidences were also given to authenticate the feat of the first phase, one being the award received for an "excellent" work in education sector, etc. …Whether these compliments are fibs or not, the tenacity of the warfare is inevitable as the enemy is getting much stronger day by day. I could agree with the fact that there was a reason to rejoice and of course to be proud of, just for endeavoring the program but to simply claim any victory is a deception. I'm aware of the plea that critics of this project should be disdained but as a scholar who is chastised with critical thinking, my conviction compels me to contravene the appeal. By the way, I would like to remind the appellants that one of the objectives of the program in question is to impart learners with the ability to think and argue critically and so it is absurd to negate own impulse. I think it is imperative to acknowledge any healthy criticisms that could contribute positively in these endeavors. If my petition is warranted, then here are my several viewpoints. First, it is undeniable fact that the first phase of SEDP did realize a significant increase in the number of secondary schools and therefore a direct increase in the number of admissions. In this case, if a school is just buildings (infrastructures) SEDP deserve some commendations. If such structures meet the desired standards then SEDP could deserve full approval. Unfortunately, there are numerous complaints about improper construction of such schools and some were not completed within their time frame. Such concerns need to be addressed accordingly. Well, that is one side of the coin. The other side is, if school is something more than buildings, there is an outright serious problem. Consider a story of a farmer who made efforts to clear a vast tract of his land, then planted healthy seeds, but was not able to nourish plants with enough and appropriate fertilizers and water, or even weeding due to immensity of the land. The result of this was poor harvest. Finally, the farmer went on to assemble his family members, friends, neighbors and sympathizers to revel his success. Now, what is the rationale for celebrations? Is it due to his ability to stretch his farming expanse or the fruitless achievements? The farmer's example is an archetypal of our education endeavors. My own experience can aver my standpoint. It was during my preceding vacation that I went to my hometown to see my siblings. I was excited to see a number of secondary schools mushrooming in each corner of the borough. The person who picked me up from the bus station was keen to share the good news about new developments in the area. One of such developments was construction of public secondary school in each parish. However I could sense a sigh of disapproval that shadowed the revealing of this "achievement". I quickly inquired and the answer was simply "… these are just Yebo-Yebo schools". Honestly until now I don't know the true meaning of Yebo-yebo because my acquaintance missed the chance to recount further as the flow of our parley was interrupted with a hug and much elation from a distance nephew who joined us. My nephew was also proud to share with me the good news that he was in form three in one of these newly established public schools. I was instantaneously proud of him until when I asked "…which topic of study did you guys cover in today's lesson…" that I started feeling cold crawling up my spine. He responded; "…we have not yet study topics…." (Hatuja soma topics bado). That was enough to nous the gist of the term Yebo-yebo on my friend's face. I decided to make a follow-up to find out if it was my nephew's own flaws or otherwise. I met with a number of students from different schools burnished with secondary school uniforms and all carrying bunch of papers on their hands. Funny enough, I could barely notice textbooks between such papers as we used to proudly carry during our era. In those days you could hardly miss in a student's bookcase famous textbooks for almost each subject. The students I met with this time had no idea as to whether those books exist or even the fact that they are supposed to read books on top of their notes. Anyways I had to focus on my research question – "the topic of study". Trust me, majority of them were not different from my nephew. Even those few who could understand the meaning of the word "topic" were not able to explain eloquently what they studied or what they have covered in the syllabi. Imagine these were the form threes and form fours. I found myself in the trail of branding them Yebo-yebo students although I didn't know and still I don't know the true meaning of the word yet. This is sad, so pathetic and frustrating. Someone could challenge my view that you cannot do everything at one time and so it was right to start with infrastructures in the first place and then do the rest in the second rung. If that was clearly stated in the objectives of SEDP I, perhaps it could carry some weight, but it wasn't. The quality education was to be provided concurrently because admissions and operations were done alongside or right after edifices were fully or partially erected. That is where the problem stems and unfortunately its magnitude is likely to be so devastating - what a waste in terms of time spent, opportunities forgone, and the poor produce realized. To me, students who are passing through this period until when things are remedied are like sacrificial lambs. Imagine they are in thousands and soon the number will double. Unfortunately most of them will be branded Yebo-Yebo same as the then UPE alumni. These are the expected manpower, the near future teachers - feeble legionnaires who will carry the mantle in the battle to regain "the lost", and YES! We are going to have world-class sufficient group of elites. Is it possible? It is indisputable fact that the quality of our education system was in the first place poor. For years, the majority of students in the already existing secondary schools, with the exception of few renowned schools like seminaries have been performing terribly poor. Seminary schools have outshining other schools ever since but no one has dared to learn from their secrets and replicate whatever possible to rescue the lapsing boat. The pedagogy in our education system encourages rote memorization instead of critical thinking and this is a phenomenon from the bottom level to the top, i.e., primary level to universities. There has been inadequacy on the appropriate study materials, but unfortunately even if books are available our students lack motivation and or skills to read and harvest the treasures embedded in them. The shortage of skilled/experienced and motivated teachers has been critical because it is the sector that has a lot of challenges but its personnel are extremely underpaid. There is a rampant poor management of the existing schools because some of those who are trusted to manage them are either inexperienced or greedy hyenas. It is a common thing that schools are horribly poor in terms of infrastructures and services due to a common popular song - "lack of funds". The ordeal that poor school girls go through when they meet with those cockerels full of lust who cant separate chick from hen and brutal policies that deny pregnant girls chances to proceed with their studies and unfortunately we continue to embrace them without shame while singing the hymns of fairness. These and other problems not mentioned here, enlighten us that augmenting the number of schools ahead of addressing such ultimate problems, is categorically fruitless same as the farmer's case discussed above. I could understand there are frustrations behind these efforts, i.e., we are lagging behind others in terms of secondary school education and the fact that the mushrooming universities will lack enough admissions unless more secondary schools are developed to manufacture enough entrants. It is also imperative to have enough skilled labor power to attract foreign direct investments in this era of globalization. Unfortunately such frustrations direct us towards haste decisions. For instance, in this massive program we are pushing a baby to run before crawling. It is obvious that we have not yet consolidated the required standards of the primary education. Quality education starts not from secondary schools but right from the bottom, that is, the primary education. It is essentially important to start young students on the path of enthusiastic, lifelong learning by providing them a solid foundation in reading, writing, mathematics, foundational science, social studies, technology, arts and above all, critical thinking. The best opportunity to instill a lasting love of learning is during these foundational years and not during secondary school years. If we could have attained this level, my nephew could have been grounded well enough to understand what the word topic is and in what it stands for in the academic arena. A wise thing that we could do therefore was to fight the war across-the-board and this should start from the primary level, all the way up. Skipping this important step could significantly affect any step forward. Back to the circumstances that wake me from inertia and energize my zeal to initiate this debate, I' am still skeptical if the second phase of SEDP would differ from the first. The objectives are too ambitious to be achieved in a short period of time as proudly said. For instance to improve the quality of education could involve more than the strategies mentioned in the second phase. The strategies mentioned include in-service courses for the teachers, review of curriculum, improvement of school libraries, capitation grant for teaching materials, improving examination structure, more diploma and degree teachers and finally education on HIV-AIDS, gender and environment. I'm not so sure if there is an emphasis on English language. Trust me, the poor command of English of both teachers and students, is a major reason for academic under-achievement in secondary schools and colleges in Tanzania. Students are not properly prepared in English language and are taught by teachers who in many cases have a low level of proficiency. The outcome is, these students cannot read and understand properly because most subjects are taught in English. That is why in most cases students memorize rather than understand. Sometimes they memorize wrong things especially from their notes that are largely 80% or more typo errors. What is the equation? If you understand a phenomenon you can think and argue critically about it but if you memorize it, you are nothing other than a Parrot. In general, it is difficult to impart students with the ability to think critically in five years time if there is no emphasis on improving their communication skills. Providing in-service to teachers is a positive thing to do. But the whole picture of teachers in our schools is not that they are not able to impart even a simple knowledge to the students. A renowned Tanzanian artiste and poet maestro Mr. Mrisho Mpoto said it all in his poems that problems facing teachers in Tanzania are multi-dimensional in nature. In short they face a hell of challenges yet their remunerations are off-colors, their living conditions are horrible, they are treated like they don't exist, teaching field is considered a job for the slackers, teachers see themselves as losers when compared to other fields and therefore undermine their talents, etc. What to do? It is simple. First boost the income for teachers and make it competitive. The salary itself will attract even the vipangas (brilliants), and then the field will be competitive and a person will feel honored to get the chance and trust me, he or she will never play around it. A teacher will stand beyond the level of selling maandazi and vitumbua to students and so will teach proudly. There is a need to enflame competition among the teachers, reward the work-hard and punish the lazybones. Discriminate their salaries, "the more deep to the rural areas and challenging environment you go, the more you are paid and on-time with many fringe benefits. Teachers will die fighting to go there. I'm not so sure if to have more diplomas and degree holders in the field is a solution than having teachers who are really embedded with passion and love to teach. The strategy of improving libraries and capitation fund for the study materials is excellent. However as I said before, if a student lacks habit of reading books, to provide him or her with books may not help him or her significantly. When this program is going to stash school libraries with books, the following are likely to happen. I will not be surprised if in few days if not months or a year, shelves in the libraries will be emptied and those books find their place in the corners of the streets for sale or pages of such precious books end-up in mama-ntilie's boxes ready to wrap maandazi and vitumbua for the customers. I' am not trying to play down this strategy but that is the fact. We need to build the culture of reading books and treasure them. For students, it is something they grow with and not to pickup at secondary school. As I pointed out earlier, the best opportunity to instill a lasting love of reading books is during formative early years, i.e., primary level. We need to start from there for lasting solution. Success of SEDP II will also depend on policy changes. Policies that punish pregnant girls to kiss studies goodbye need to be revised in order to allow girls to receive education just like anybody else. It is their right not something to punish them with. In fact, the revised policies should aim at punishing those who engage in sexual relationship with minors or students and not such young girls who unfortunately are caught in the corner due to their naivety. Policies that deal with parents who wed their daughters and deny them chances to proceed with their education should be emphasized and such parents need to be disciplined. Teachers that engage in sexual relationships with their students or even solicit sex from students should be punished hard. Girls need to be empowered to say NO when they mean it. Learning from success stories is fundamental to the expected success. For instance, Seminary schools in the country are good performers in the secondary school education. I'm sure it is not that they pick the best of the best but just ordinary students and then apply their magic and make them the best. We need to learn from their secrets. Being a product of such schools I have just few to share. One is discipline; second, set high standards; third, motivate students in many ways; forth, English language has to be emphasized. My final suggestion is, SEDP II should make sure the newly constructed schools are not branded Yebo–yebos but the best schools one can depend on for the best education. Although such schools provide room for many students to join, they should not compromise their standards. For a student to be able to move from one class to another for instance, he or she has to meet certain level of pass mark, otherwise he or she has to repeat or play mark-time for another year in the same class. We don't want to produce yebo-yebos but highest quality class of elites. The next thing that I'm going to do right now is to find out the true meaning of the word yebo-yebo. Can anyone help? Be blessed.