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  Participatory approach revives adult education in Tanzania
By Mboneko Munyaga,
Special Correspondent, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
   
    Tanzania had almost wiped out illiteracy. Official figures put the literacy rate at 96.8 per cent in 1986 and the country was hailed worldwide as a model success for adult empowerment to read and write.
   
    However, the story changed drastically about ten years later. In 1998, the Ministry of Education and Culture quoted literacy as standing at 77 per cent. This figure is nevertheless disputed by other agencies including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which believes literacy in the country is much lower than that.
   
    The agency could be right. Long are gone the days when adult literacy campaigns used to form the agenda at almost every village meeting and political rallies. Also, there have been massive school dropouts and failure to enrol for basic primary education by children of the right school going age. All these factors have contributed to the growing chasm between the literate and society's ignorant lot.
   
 

  However, two innovative approaches to adult learning are now poised to change all that. They both aim at reducing donor dependence in favour of enhanced sustainability and greater sense of community ownership of adult learning programmes.

   
    The two programmes are the Integrated Community Based Adult Education (ICBAE) and the Complementary Basic Education in Tanzania (COBET). While ICBAE targets the traditional crop of adult illiterates, Cobet aims at giving a second chance to orphans and children of single parents especially girls, who for one reason or other, could not continue with formal education.
   
    Educationalists believe that tackling the two problems together is the surest way of achieving permanent and lasting results in the country's drive against illiteracy. The African Development Bank (ADB) is ready to give a helping hand and prefers that wherever there is an ICBAE programme running, a COBET cell should also be established there, says the Director of Adult Education Mr Charles Bugeke.
   
    ICBAE started on pilot projects in four wards from four far-flung districts in fiscal 1997/98 and the results have been very encouraging. However, the goal is to cover all the 20 Mainland regions by the year 2002 well in time for the country's target of Education For All (EFA) by 2003.
   
    The curriculum seeks to meet the requirements of basic adult literacy that is reading, writing and arithmetic. However, the learning approach is radically different from that of past classes. Whereas in the past adults were subjected to child-oriented-classroom learning conditions, the nucleus of learning under ICBAE is the jointly owned development project.
   
    Kiroka village in Morogoro rural district about 200 km West of the capital, Dar es Salaam was largely a sleepy place. Poverty, defined as deprivation of the basic necessities of life, hung over the village like the sword of Damocles. But now, an ICBAE pilot programme there has stirred the villagers to new heights of hope and sense of purpose in their lives.
   
    The participants, both male and female, are free to set their own learning timetable. Theory takes only three days a week but practicals continue throughout the week. Instead of teachers, learning is dispensed by facilitators only. The difference between the two is like the moon and earth, insists Mr Anthony Ntilema an ICBAE desk officer at the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC).
   
    Teachers, he says, usually behave like banks. They are supposed to be the only ones knowing everything while their pupils or students presumably know nothing. Facilitators, however, guide groups or individuals to realise their potential on a mutual exchange basis.
   
    The head facilitator is usually the manager of the communally owned mini-economic project who helps with both theory and practice. Two other volunteers assist him. They might include secondary-school leavers or primary school teachers at the village. However, they all have to be interested in adult education.
   
    Using this philosophy, the participants in ICBAE classes are involved right from the very early stages, both in the design and production of their learning materials. In a very practical and cost-effective way, learning starts by drawing matrixes on the ground instead of buying manila cards which are considered more expensive.
   
    The specific needs of a location are usually also taken into consideration such that no two curricula are exactly the same. Because Kiroka is on the slopes on the Uluguru Mountain ranges where soil erosion is now part of the communal problem, the ICBAE curriculum for the village contains tips on how to preserve the environment.
   
    ICBAE classes have borrowed heavily from the Paul Freire's philosophy that encourages dialogue over lecturing. Thus, the learning process always starts with discussing a common problem and how best it could be solved by using matrixes.
   
    When the results are finally tallied, the villagers would have obtained answers on the priority needs of their village based on their own thinking and reasoning. Nothing can be more fun in learning than the experience of suddenly finding yourself a decision maker, says Mr Bugeke. "Involving the participants in decision-making right from the word go is very important for the sustainability of the programmes," declares Mr Bugeke.
   
    MOEC has high expectations for ICBAE when it is finally adopted for all adult education classes in the country. Officials believe that involving the villagers could lead to increased contributions from the participants both in labour and money, for the social and economic development of their communities.
   
    "You know, the early curriculum for adult education was based on the objectives of the first five year plan that encouraged the promotion of cash crops for export. Things have now changed. The thrust today is much more on development than anything else so you cannot stick to old strategies. No one can read the same material for twenty years," remarks adult education expert Mrs Mary Eyakuze.
   
    Mrs Eyakuze is retired but she is now a consultant with the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) in Tanzania. Her brief includes giving technical backing for setting up Complementary Basic Education in Tanzania (COBET) programmes. "UNICEF is not funding Cobet. We are only giving the technical backing. Otherwise, it is the responsibility of the government to offer education to its citizens," she says.
   
    "Cobet therefore is not an alternative to primary education. It is exactly just what it says - complementary basic education targeting orphans and single-parent children especially girls, who for some reason or other, couldn't continue with formal education," she points out.
   
    Currently, there are ten pilot COBET centres with 30 children each at Maneromango Ward in Kisarawe district. The children, 119 girls and 181 boys aged between 8 and 18 years old have been given a fresh chance to acquire education. Another ten centres involved in a pilot scheme can be found at Lisekese ward in Masasi district on the border with Mozambique. The centres have a total of 381 children, 109 girls and 272 boys.
   
    Both Kisarawe and Masasi districts have traditionally very high ratios of non-school enrolment or dropout that left the majority of their inhabitants illiterate. Girls in particular are often forced out of school by their parents in favour of early marriages or confinement at home for initiation rituals into womanhood. The later tradition still has a very strong cultural appeal in both districts but girls largely end up the losers.
   
    "It was very saddening when we went to do the needs assessment survey in the districts," says the MOEC COBET desk officer, Mrs Levira Basilina. "At Maneromango alone, 460 children turned up. Of course we couldn't take them all. It was heart-breaking to see some of them return home crying," she adds. More than 600 children turned up at Masasi but again only a few could be accommodated.
   
    So far, the COBET philosophy is no fees, no uniforms and no caning. Like in the ICBAE classes, the children decide when to start studying and when to end. Should a girl want to go and breast feed her baby, the facilitator simply has to oblige. Similarly, should a boy want to go and engage in his economic activity, well and good.
   
    However, discipline is enforced through peer education, exposure to life skills knowledge, civics and lessons in personality enhancement. The results so far have been wonderful, claims Bugeke. Youths who were considered lost cases in society are now working very hard on their lessons. Similar programmes are also run in Bangladesh and Uganda where the programme is known as Complementary Education for Primary Education (COPE). In fact Mrs Basilina visited Uganda as party of her study of the system.
   
    The children have been divided into two cohorts: those aged between 8 -13 years old and those in the 14 -18 bracket. Their study materials also differ accordingly. "Those in the 8-13 age group have more chances of integrating into formal education," says Mrs Eyakuze.
   
    Developing the COBET curriculum brought together experts from MOEC itself, the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE), the Institute of Adult Education (IAE), the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) and the national Examinations Commission of Tanzania (NECTA).
   
    Under normal circumstances, primary education in Tanzania takes seven years. However, the COBET curriculum has been compressed to fit into just a three-year period after which the children qualify for entry examinations into secondary schools just like those who went through the seven-year period.
   
    This is where COBET promises to be a major revolution in Tanzania's educational thinking and practice. It is no longer far-fetched to imagine a day when children won't be forced to do seven years in primary school before they qualify to enter secondary schools. Alternatively, times are not very far away when formal primary schools shall be considered a thing of the past.
   
    Should that happen, a programme seemingly designed for the less fortunate members of society, shall have in fact come to the rescue of those considered more privileged.
   
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