Utafiti Elimu Tanzania 2023: Working towards a future-proofed education system

Utafiti Elimu Tanzania (Swahili for Education Research Tanzania) is an annual evidence-into-policy forum bringing together collaborative planning efforts across the education system in Tanzania. In 2022, the conference focused on teacher continuous professional development (TCPD), data for decision-making, EdTech strategy, inclusion, school safety, and gender. In 2023, two main themes — teacher workforce planning and climate change — were selected as priority research-into-policy areas.  

Partnership and collaboration go a long way towards building a stronger and more cohesive community. Education stakeholders increasingly see the need for collaboration to improve learning outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. Utafiti Elimu 2023 touched on the positive effects of partnership in implementing a better teacher workforce and environment for learners and teachers. 

In March 2023, EdTech Hub joined the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST), the President’s Office for Regional Administration and Local Government, Government of Tanzania Implementing Agencies (PO-RALG),  Aga Khan University, the University of Dar es Salaam, the Aga Khan Foundation, the British Council, the Global Educational Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP), the Canadian Embassy, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Organisation (FCDO) for the second Utafiti Elimu Tanzania. The evidence presented centred on education challenges, solutions to teachers’ workforce planning and management, and climate change and infrastructure. Underscoring Tanzania’s teacher shortage and improving the resilience of education to climate and environmental changes was the importance of coordinated partnerships. 

Attended by partners from the higher education community, development and private sector and teachers, a joint call was made to align research data with government priorities. Specifically, this alignment was cited as critical to addressing teacher quality, holistic approaches to addressing the effects of climate change on learning and ensuring that the decisions made by stakeholders will shift the needle for children, teachers, and the education system in Tanzania.

In his speech, Yusuf Singo from PO-RALG emphasised that the Tanzania Government is committed to providing quality education and improving classroom quality with the help of research and evidence. 

I am looking forward to the evidence and recommendations from research colleagues during these sessions and using that to inform our decisions in improving our education systems,” said Singo.   

GEEAP member and immediate former Chief Administrative Secretary for the Kenya Ministry of Education, Dr Sara Ruto, highlighted the need for urgency and the importance of listening to and acting on evidence.

Dr Ruto called on East Africans and Tanzanians to claim their space in the global research sphere while creating and seeking active partnerships to promote local knowledge and case studies which should inform international research.

She underscored the importance of agency as an enabler of urgency in responding to current problems effectively. 

Colin Bangay, Senior Education Adviser at FCDO, pointed out that Tanzania’s education data pool still needs to be more profound. It is widely recognised that research findings are only sometimes universally applicable. This applies to Tanzania, as these need to be contextualised and localised to be relevant. Once this is done, we can focus on dissemination, which requires significant investment and developing a strong communications strategy for the evidence to reach the right people.  

We should not assume that evidence is enough,” said Bangay. “We need to communicate it effectively to enable action, policy, and implementation of evidence.” 

Teacher workforce planning and management 

Teachers are intrinsic to education — investing in teacher training and professional development is investing in education for learners. At Utafiti Elimu 2023, the prevailing concern was that the stakes are very high for education in Tanzania with its rapidly growing population and that success might not be realised unless the right teachers are in the right place and with the right tools. Despite these challenges, which include teacher shortages and deployment to rural areas, there was a parallel belief that Tanzania is making headway. 

Margaret Mussai from MOEST confirmed that Tanzania had made much effort to ensure enough schools. However, this has led to another challenge — the increased number of students. 

We are now facing the challenge of teacher shortage,” said Mussai. “The government has started to improve on the quality and increase the number of teachers despite the fact that the student-to-teacher ratio is significantly high.”  

However, we need to be careful about generically discussing the teacher shortage. There is a simultaneous challenge of widespread teacher unemployment and a chronic lack of particular teachers, such as special needs teachers. Much stronger evidence-based workforce planning, starting with teacher training at the college level and matching intake to needs, is called for. 

It is also about more than just the number of teachers and about deployment. Recruiting and retaining teachers in remote areas is a serious challenge. Tanzania faces geographic differences in teacher-to-student ratios between regions, so the inequality and disjoint are regional as well as global.

Given Tanzania’s growing student population, can anything be done to address rising teacher-student ratios? What is the research suggesting? Addressing the imbalance is critical as the country faces an increasing demand from the growing number of students. Expanding the use of volunteer teachers is a potential approach, and there are three critical areas for generating evidence. 

  1. Motivation — understanding what motivates and drives individuals to become volunteer teachers is crucial in identifying how to undertake effective recruitment. This can encourage volunteers to remain committed throughout their roles. 
  2. Accountability — effective mechanisms are needed to manage and improve the quality of volunteer teachers’ instruction to help them meet the needs of the students they teach.  
  3. Formalisation — as volunteers gain experience demonstrating their skills, they could be helped to transition into formal positions sustainably. This could help address the teacher shortage and improve Tanzania’s education quality. However, it is also essential to carefully consider the positive and negative impacts of doing so. For example, formalisation may lead to improved job security and career development opportunities but may also result in increased workload and reduced flexibility.  

Regarding gender disparities, primary school teachers in Tanzania are predominantly female, while secondary school teachers are primarily male. This has implications for fostering a conducive school environment,  addressing gender-based violence, and providing access to positive or suitable role models, among other things.

Climate change — Rising temperatures and learning 

Climate change and its effects on learning were widely covered with presentations, and discussions centred on how the education system can adapt to the impact of climate change and rising classroom temperatures. Colin Bangay emphasised how education stakeholders can make a difference — but a holistic approach is needed. EdTech Hub gave a presentation on ‘Temperature and Learning in Tanzania’ and led working groups to present evidence on climate change and learning.  

Jamie Proctor cited evidence synthesis from the Global North, showing that reducing the temperature by 1 °C increased learning by 2% for the average student. Following this, he presented his study, which outlined the results of an experiment testing a white paint, cool roof intervention, which showed an average daily temperature reduction of around 4℃. Better and improved classrooms are required in Tanzania to tackle rising temperatures —  improvements are not a ‘nice to have’ but are vital and can significantly impact learning outcomes. When considering how to improve the climate resilience of school environments, it is crucial to consider a range of issues, such as water supply to schools, the use of technology, and the preparedness for natural disaster response. 

Solutions towards improving teacher workforce planning and climate change effects on learning rely on research and evidence engagement. Often, engagement with evidence and its dissemination are seen as separate processes. Perhaps it’s time for a more coordinated approach.

We need to think through different approaches to dissemination which can be done through the communities themselves.” Said Daniel Baheta, Chief of Education, UNICEF

Given how much we invest in research, are we investing enough in the dissemination of evidence? Wanjiku Mbugua, EdTech Hub’s Country Co-Lead in Kenya, called on all education stakeholders in the room to factor in communication and engagement with evidence when planning the research and evidence-gathering process. 

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