Utafiti Elimu Tanzania: Bridging Research and Policy in Tanzanian Education

In Tanzania’s dynamic education research ecosystem, the annual Utafiti Elimu Tanzania (UET) conference serves as a vital bridge connecting research insights with actionable policy and practice. As we delve into its evolution and structure, we uncover an agile journey marked by strategic partnerships, evolving funding models, and a commitment to government ownership.

The Tanzanian context has inspired a broad range of educational research, often in partnership with national higher education institutions. While such research produces valuable insights and evidence, outputs are at risk of being confined to journals and academic discourse and potentially slipping through the net when it comes to national education policy and practice.

Utafiti Elimu Tanzania — meaning Education Research Tanzania in Swahili — was convened to help address this by bringing together policymakers, government officials, national and international researchers, development partners, education programme implementers and other sector stakeholders on an annual basis for an evidence-focused, innovative, and output-oriented conference.

Evolution of Utafiti Elimu Tanzania

The inaugural UET took place in 2022 and has continued every year since to build connections and momentum. Initial funding support came from UKAID, Aga Khan Foundation, British Council and Institute of Physics. While the funding profile has changed over the years, the multi-donor model has brought numerous benefits to UET. First, it elevates and highlights how the UET mission speaks to the diverse interests of education stakeholders. Second, the vested interest of funders translates into support for attracting expert speakers and high-level decision-makers which is critical to generating productive engagement on evidence-based policy and practice. Third, a consortium of funders encourages government ownership of UET because the conference agenda is not anchored in any single funder’s priorities.

Over time, the amount of funding for UET has decreased by some 50% since 2022 — which is, in fact, a good thing! To kick-start the event as a conference of national and international relevance, there was a need for greater funding. This ensured a high turnout of government officials and thought-provoking sessions with a balance of research expertise from within and beyond Tanzania. In essence, we needed to ‘set the scene’ for what UET can offer the Government of Tanzania.

However, relying on significant donor funding is unsustainable if the conference is to serve its purpose as the driver of an annual, government-owned research agenda. Therefore, the budget has gradually reduced in parallel with increased emphasis on government financial and practical support for the event.

UET 2024 is indicative of how this approach is working: the event was hosted and co-organised by a government institution at no cost to donors, and formally endorsed and opened by the Minister of Education, Science and Technology.

Designing for engagement at Utafiti Elimu Tanzania

Utafiti Elimu Tanzania is carefully curated to allow each event to generate policy and implementation recommendations in line with government priorities in education. 

The event’s overall relevance depends on identifying themes which speak to both emerging global issues in education and those pertinent to the Tanzanian context. For any conference outputs to be deemed meaningful and useful to the government, themes must receive high-level government endorsement as early as possible. Ideally, a government stakeholder workshop would tease out priority themes. In practice, though, getting everyone in the same place can be costly and schedules are often not in sync. Instead, themes have been drawn from changes in national policy and practice as well as areas of increased donor financing as a way to help mitigate areas that may be at risk of ‘wasted spend’, and then presented to high-level officials for approval.

Unlike most academic conferences which prioritise research presentations, UET places participant engagement at the heart of its sessions. Facilitators invite attendees to participate through: Q&A; sharing reflections and own experiences; and group brainstorming with presentations. Supporting UET to become a government-owned initiative means that engaging sessions can’t be resource-heavy. Post-it notes, pens and flipcharts have therefore become the bread and butter of UET breakout sessions!

Alongside a toolbox of resources mentioned above, an effective UET session relies on having the right people to present and facilitate. Research presentations catalyse discussion in group activities so it is important to offer multiple angles on each theme. Speakers need to embrace that they are not invited to simply present their research but to provide insights which can feed into broader discussions. To prevent such discussions from existing within an ‘echo chamber’ where discussions are limited to what we know has been or is being implemented by the Tanzanian government, each theme also needs a balance of voices from government, national research institutions and the international community. 

Tying these angles together is the facilitator who leads the synthesis of opinions, queries and suggestions. The result is a consensus on the priorities, recommendations and actions which form each thematic stream’s output. Together, these outputs represent the unique ‘product’ of UET: a straight-forward summary of government priorities, existing evidence, research gaps and a tangible outline of actions needed across the thematic areas. 

Establishing themes and capturing outputs

UET 2024 was hosted by Dar es Salaam University College of Education, a government-run institution, on 28th-29th February. This marked the event’s biggest year to date, with some 270 participants from government offices, research institutions, donor partners and national education development programme implementers.

UET 2024 comprised three themes: Climate, environment and education; Implementing the new curriculum, and; Technology to strengthen the education system. During the breakout session, participants delved into critical government priorities and identified key research gaps.

A summary of the outputs for each theme can be found below:

Climate, environment, and education

Water provision emerged as a pressing concern in schools, particularly regarding sanitation. Moreover, strategies to address climate change impacts were discussed, with novel pedagogical approaches to respond to high temperatures and flooding emerging as areas for further research, alongside retrofitting infrastructure and developing innovative new build infrastructure.

Implementing the new curriculum

As the government begins to roll out its revised basic education curriculum, participants identified key areas in need of evidence to drive implementation. Teacher professional development emerged as a focal point, along with assessing the relevance and applicability of teacher training programmes. Additionally, discussions centred on teachers’ preparedness to effectively implement the new curriculum. Inclusive education and support for students with special educational needs (SEN) were also underscored, including considerations for available resources across infrastructure, assistive devices, and teaching materials, and diagnostic tools for SEN. Addressing student dropout rates was another area of focus, exploring parent and student aspirations related to education, as well as teachers’ perspectives on dropout and truancy issues.

While there may be a sense of understanding regarding these reasons [for dropout], it is imperative to conduct further investigation for deeper insights.

– Prof. Hon. Adolf Mkenda

Another priority area was resource allocation, examining how budgets are designated for the new curriculum’s implementation. Participants sought clarity on the sustainability of funding mechanisms and mobilisation strategies associated with the proper equipment of schools and teacher training facilities.

Technology to strengthen the education system

Key takeaways from the session included ensuring readiness among teachers and schools to introduce ICT nationwide and emphasising the importance of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and funding mechanisms. Evaluating the alignment of existing education technology policies with ICT rollout emerged as critical. Additionally, discussions highlighted the significance of obtaining accurate school data and building the capacity of educators to use technology to foster inclusive learning environments.

The innovations we have seen in education, and the research currently underway, shows we don’t have to build everything from scratch ourselves when it comes to integrating technology in the education system — we need to leverage the evidence and tools that exist.

– Hannah Simmons, Tanzania Co-Country Lead, EdTech Hub
Considerations for UET’s future and replicating this type of event 

Like all large events, running UET comes with a cost. Funders of UET 2024 include UKAID, UNICEF, Schools2030, British Council and Dar es Salaam University College of Education. 

Making sure the right people are in the room means minimising the ‘barrier to entry’: UET doesn’t charge an attendance fee, and the organising committee allocates a proportion of funds for speaker travel and daily fee rates. Alongside this are standard costs such as catering, venue, and communications materials. 

Since its inception, the budget for the conference has been reduced to align with the goal of it being a government-owned and sustained event. Though a big budget is associated with ‘quality’, if we want to see government and national institutions commit to running UET on an annual basis, we need to demonstrate that limited funding doesn’t have to mean limited impact. 

Nevertheless, it is always challenging to balance the cost of paying government-stipulated day rates for civil servants’ attendance with having the right ‘decision-makers’ in the room to endorse the event and its outputs.

Sustaining such an event requires considerable documentation. The limited time frame and human capacity for organising mean templates and samples of various documents are a huge time saver while recording attendance for future invites and documenting lessons learned provide helpful starting points for subsequent years.

In the long-term, our shared vision for UET is for it to become an annual, government-owned initiative. This would mean that the government would source and manage event funds, handle logistics, and solicit outputs like those outlined above, in addition to current expectations for it to consider and make use of UET outputs in policy and practice.

For this ‘handover’ to happen, there needs to be a perceived value in sustaining the event on the part of the government. Making conference outputs easy to understand and presented with tangible paths of action is thus critical, as is continuing to use the UET platform to drive discussion and disseminate evidence linked to themes.

Bringing so many partners together requires committed individuals (organising UET is an additional responsibility for everyone involved) and strong leadership. Furthermore, there should be a clear delineation of roles (including budget responsibilities) to ensure that the many ‘moving parts’ of this kind of event continue to progress in sync.

In a context like Tanzania, it’s essential that among the organising partners, there are strong links with the government. Without these ties, securing government attendance and engagement in the event is challenging.

We hope that you find this guide helpful in building a shared vision among stakeholders. Connect with our work in Tanzania and explore resources on the topic areas covered during our conferences via the evidence library.

About Utafiti Elimu Tanzania: Organising partners

UET’s success owes to its tremendous organising partners: EdTech Hub, University of Dar es Salaam, British Council, Aga Khan Foundation, with support from Mannion Daniels. Joining the 2024 organising committee were this year’s hosts, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE). 

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