Last week it was announced that newly elected President John Magufuli will be abolishing secondary school fees in Tanzania, effective January 2016. This move has resulted in a lot of controversy, namely resistance from school administrators who fear they will not be able to run their schools adequately without tuition from students. However, the vast majority are pleased with the president's decision, as it means greater educational opportunity for millions of children. We fall into the latter group; compulsory secondary education without school fees enables more children to attend secondary school, increasing their knowledge as well as their opportunities in life. Eliminating fees increases the chances that underserved groups will be able to enroll and attend school beyond the primary level, which currently only 25% of the school aged population is able to do.
Although tuition for secondary school enrollment has been abolished, this does not eliminate expenses associated with attending school such as books, uniforms and school supplies. So, while this is a huge step forward for the Tanzanian education system, there are still thousands of impoverished students. An increase in secondary school enrollment also begs the question - how will this be funded? Without increased funding available, schools will either have to increase the number of teachers or make do with a higher student-to-teacher ratio. Eliminating fees for secondary school is a step forward for Tanzania, but change can’t stop there.
A positive effect of this presidential action is the potential to not only increase the educated populace but the percentage of English speakers as well. Currently, Kiswahili is the language of instruction, with an English class being taught at some, though not all, schools. Higher enrollment in secondary school means a higher percentage of the population learning English. In the western world, speaking English is something we take for granted. For individuals in the developing world, proficiency in English can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity. Education and professional opportunities available to bilingual English speakers are remarkably higher than for monolingual Kiswahili speakers. Not only could obtaining an English speaking job bring someone out of poverty, it has the potential to bring Tanzania as a whole out of poverty. The current education system creates only a small amount of educated, truly qualified professionals. At independence, there were just a handful of doctors and engineers left in the country. While there are more degree holding individuals in TZ today, the "brain drain" is still a detrimental phenomenon - educated individuals are emigrating away from their homelands in search of more prosperous opportunities. Needless to say, the infrastructure has severely suffered due to this.
We applaud Tanzania’s new ruling, but we know that this is only the first step to expanding access to education and ensuring opportunities for all Tanzanians. In keeping with BTF’s goals to provide education to all Tanzanians, our schools provide students with education as well as additional necessary resources such as books, uniforms, school lunches, and boarding for students who need it most. By providing truly free education for these children by covering the extra costs of their schooling, we are able to provide peace of mind to the students and their parents who worry about being able to afford their educational expenses. Since students won’t need to worry about money, they will be more focused on learning, which will enrich their educational experience. Being more immersed in the learning process will not only prepare our students for their tests, but also for life outside the classroom. We plan to have Saving Grace include a secondary school by 2020 and know that the same challenges we have now will still be applicable at that time - although technically the education is free, we want to ensure our students do not have to pay anything at all to attend our school and will be able to receive the additional materials they need free of charge. By enabling more students to enroll in our secondary school, we are also helping other public schools in the area reduce crowding and increase the quality of education that is provided. With your help, we can continue to fund Saving Grace and ensure that we are prepared to expand our role into secondary education and beyond.