John and his daughters

Tanzanian primary school

After seeing the boma, we visited the primary school that serves the Maasai village and surrounding area. Operated by the Tanzanian government, a primary school has seven levels, or standards. The school and adjoining clinic are outside the village.

Tanzanian primary school
Tanzanian primary school

John’s three daughters attend this school. They live at the school and come home on weekends.  About half the students are boarders. John is a Maasai Elder, and he knows folk medicine from his father.

John and his daughters
John and his daughters

In the primary school, classes are conducted in Kiswahili, the national language, and English is taught as a class.  Students generally speak their tribal language at home.  In secondary school, class is conducted in English.  To better prepare for secondary school, one of our safari guides sends his children to a private primary school, where English is used for instruction.

The lead teacher, the administrator for the school, told us about the school and answered questions.  American schools use a similar name — our principal is shortened from the original principal teacher.  There are two classes per standard.

The lead teacher showed us the dormitories for the boarding students — bunk beds crowded into dimly-lit rooms.  Two or three students share a bed, and many beds have slats without mattresses.  The school has over a dozen buildings: classrooms, dormitories, and lodging for teachers and the lead teacher.  Two buildings have solar panels donated by an American on safari, so those buildings have lights.

Teachers walked with us during the tour.  I talked to a 2nd standard teacher from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and commercial hub.  His English is excellent.  He attended a government college, which requires three years of service upon graduation.  The government assigned him to this school outside a Maasai village of 400 and hours away from Arusha, the closest large town.  He’d like to go back to school.

We asked if there any sports at the school.  No sports.  Are there soccer balls (footballs)?  No. Looking around, the school is on a hillside so they also don’t have a level area except in front of the classrooms.  Then there are thorny issues from the brush surrounding the school.  If it’s anything like the brush we see on bush walks, it’s acacia with thorns of 1″ to 3″, depending on the variety.  What does the school need most?  Solar panels for lights.  Only two buildings have solar panels.  The teacher’s lodging has no lights.

We visited a 7th standard classroom.  The students are between 12 to 16 years old.  They sing a song for us.  Our lead safari guide proceeds to hand out pencils.  He calls up students based on their rank from last year’s standardized test, starting from number one, and passes out pencils to the top-ranked students. Each student knows their ranking, and they apparently are accustomed to their ranking being discussed.

passing out pencils to the top-ranked students
passing out pencils to the top-ranked students

Coming from American schools, this public use of ranking seems harsh. With time, we rationalized the Tanzanian approach.  Tanzania is a developing country with scarce resources.  They can’t afford to educate everyone through secondary school, so they select the most qualified students.  Students going on to secondary school must pass a qualifying test.  Students and their families need to know where they stand before that test, so that they’re not totally surprised by the test results. Similarly, students must pass a test to enter college.

We asked how many students are in the class.  About 70.  Although there are 2-3 students per desk, only about half the students are in class.  They dodge school, the teacher observed.

A safari member looked at a textbook and saw facts about growing cotton.  Don’t see how growing cotton is relevant to herders who count cattle as wealth. If the Maasai were to take up farming, they would probably start with food they can eat, not a commercial crop like cotton. We saw corn (maize) growing in the village. Maasai eat corn and make a beer from corn.

We donated money to purchase mattresses for the school and gave school supplies to the lead teacher to distribute as he sees fit.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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