Project Spotlight: The Tanzanian Education System

Updated: Feb 14

An important piece of One Ndoto's work is education and advocacy. Along with sharing stories from the projects we work alongside, we believe in providing education about the cultural, societal and historical contexts of the communities we work in. Our aim is to provide insight into why things may be the way they are, how they got that way and inspire critical thinking when looking at development. The "Project Spotlight" blog series will focus on sharing more about the multiple contexts our projects are coming out of, and how those contexts impact the work we do. It's our hope that with this information, we can increase understanding of not only the need, but the importance, of our work and the approach we take.

Education in Tanzania is offered through both public and private sectors. A student's education starts with pre-primary education, followed by 7 years of primary school, 4 years of secondary ordinary (O-level), 2 years of secondary advanced (A-level), and ideally, university level education. While Swahili is the national language of Tanzania, English is taught in schools, and the only language spoken in secondary school.

Progression through the Tanzanian education system

A brief history of the politics behinds education in Tanzania will help us frame the context of education in Tanzania today.


Shortly after Independence in 1961, the Tanzanian government began to emphasize the importance of education. In 1964, the policy "Education for Self-Reliance" was implemented to assign education as a vital role in the transformation of Tanzania to an African socialist society. Universal primary education (UPE) was emphasized in the Musoma Declaration in 1974, as a way to transform rural society.


Between the 1980s - 1990s, external factors such as oil crises, low coffee prices, draught, and war between Tanzania and Uganda, led to a huge reduction in resources that lead to a reversal of progress made towards UPE. In 1995, the Ministry of Education started programming to accelerate progress on stagnating education indicators, with the Education Sector Development Program (ESDP) was issued in 1997. Together with civil society stakeholders and donors, the Primary Education Development Program was developed with the objectives to: expand school access; improve education quality; and, increase school retention at the primary level. In theory, these objectives were achieved through improved resource allocation and utilization, improved educational inputs, and strengthened institutional arrangement for effective primary education delivery.


While the Government of Tanzania has enacted many laws and made significant reforms, the education system remains inaccessible for many.


The National Exams students take are challenging and have a high failure rate. If a student fails, the only option to continue their traditional education is as a Private Candidate - which is costly and more challenging than the typical stream. Failure of national exams at the primary school level means the end of a student's education career. Failure at a second school level allows students access to trades-skills education; at a cost prohibitive for many.. If a student passes primary level national exams, then they are able to attend secondary school.


While public primary and secondary school are free from tuition, there are still costs that make education prohibitive. School uniforms, notebooks and pencils, lunch program fees, and other administrative costs add up quickly. Some families may only be able to send one child to school, while others may not be able to send any at all.


Typical teaching methodology is traditional; students recording teacher's dictation, and route memorization. While special education and tutoring are becoming more available, any student that does not respond well to route memorization is at a significant disadvantage. Add to a rigid teaching method, the presence of corporal punishment, school can be a stressful environment for many students. Corporal punishment is lawful in school in mainland Tanzania under the National Corporal Punishment Regulations 1979 pursuant to article 60 of the National Education Act 1978. In 2000, government guidelines reduced the number of strokes from six to four, and


Students from Pamoja Tunaweza's education program

So what does this mean for students today? The average school life expectancy of a student is 8 years. With limited education, sustainable employment is increasingly difficult to obtain. Without sustainable employment it is challenging to build a secure future for one's self and family. If one decides to start a family, the likelihood that a child is able to complete traditional school is low. Thus, the cycle of education poverty continues.


While there are many challenges of the Tanzanian education system, there are strengths. Education reforms are being discussed and there are hopes of successful implementation. Excellent tutoring programs are more available to support students remaining in school, such as The Toa Nafasi Project. Special education programs, like The Gabriella Centre, are becoming more accessible, giving children and youth with disabilities a chance at an academic future.


As the Spotlight series continues, we will discuss how the context of the Tanzanian education system impacts the youth we work with, in partnership with The Pamoja Tunaweza Boys & Girls Club.


Fast Facts on the Tanzanian Education System:


Education Expenditure: 3.4% of GDP (2014)


Literacy: 77.9% of total population (2015 estimate)


School Life Expectancy: 8 years (2013 estimate)



This post was written by Emily Molzan, Executive Director of One Ndoto Canada.


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