Towards Universal Primary Education: The Experience of Tanzania

The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania recognizes the central role of education in achieving the overall development goal of improving the quality of life for its citizens. It considers the provision of quality universal primary education for all the most reliable way of building a sustainable future for the country. This is well articulated in the Tanzania Development Vision 2025 and the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty. Tanzania is also a signatory of several international agreements, including on Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


At the nation's independence, the country's leaders proclaimed ignorance as an enemy of progress, together with poverty and disease. Strategies were laid, plans were drawn and investments were made to expand education in the country. Tanzania witnessed an unprecedented development of primary and secondary schools, as well as the establishment of its first university. Primary education was made universal, schools were built in every village and adult education was supported to impart literacy to the many unfortunate citizens who had never seen the inside of a classroom. The result was high enrolment in primary schools and remarkable literacy rates in the country, as well as an increased number of professionals and technicians. Tanzania was one of the countries with the highest literacy rates in Africa, reaching 98 per cent by the mid-1980s.
However, this achievement could not be sustained as a result of economic hardship caused by increased oil prices, high levels of debt servicing, hunger, drought and overall poor economic performance. In response to the implementation of structural adjustment programmes, the Government introduced cost-sharing measures, froze recruitment of teachers and reduced overall spending on education. These measures led to a shortage of teaching and learning materials, non-maintenance of school infrastructure, discontinued classroom construction, as well as a shortage of teachers. These effects resulted in low enrolment, high dropout rates, low performance at national examinations, dilapidated buildings, an uncomfortable learning environment and a decline in completion rates. Cost-sharing had negative effects on the education system, especially for orphans and children from low-income families and vulnerable groups, such as street children, who could not afford to pay school fees and other mandatory contributions. As a result, the net enrolment rates declined from 67.6 per cent in 1985 to 57 per cent in 2000.
With the onset of structural economic reforms in the mid-1980s, it became clear that there was a need to review the education system and recommend ways to make further progress. In 1995, an education and training policy was formulated to serve as a framework for implementing recommended reforms. The policy focused on improving access to education at all levels and providing quality and equitable education to both boys and girls, as well as improving management and financing for education.
In 1997, the Government developed the Education Sector Development Programme (ESDP) to translate policy intentions into a feasible and coherent development framework. It called for pooling human, financial and material resources through the involvement of all key stakeholders in education planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. As it was clear that the development of the entire education sector could not be feasible, the Government decided to start with the development of primary education and gradually expand to secondary and higher education levels.
To support the ESDP, the Government launched the Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP) in 2002, which has been implemented in two five-year phases, the first from 2002 to 2006 and the second (PEDP II) from 2007 to 2011. The first PEDP has four key components: enrolment expansion; quality improvement; capacity-building; and strengthening of institutional arrangements. The Programme was strategically designed to achieve the MDGs and EFA operational targets, as well as to address the critical challenges facing primary education. To make the implementation of PEDP possible, the Government made a number of far-reaching decisions:

  • to abolish school fees and other mandatory contributions that are tied to enrolment and attendance, so as to offer education to all eligible children;
  • to introduce capitation grants to support the purchase of textbooks and other teaching and learning materials, as well as fund facility repairs, administration materials and school-based examinations. In addition, the Government introduced development grants for the construction of school buildings and the purchase of furniture;
  • to direct each primary school to open and operate two separate bank accounts, one for the capitation grant and the other for the development grant, to ensure effective management of school funds and implementation of plans;
  • to make primary school enrolment and attendance compulsory, and develop strategies to ensure that all eligible children are enrolled;
  • to disseminate PEDP implementation guidelines and manuals, including for school-level procurement of textbooks, financial management manuals, construction guidelines and manuals on strengthening institutional arrangements; and
  • to scale up a pilot project on the Complementary Basic Education Programme in Tanzania (COBET) for outreach to all out-of-school and overage children.

In the past five years, the implementation of PEDP has led to a number of successes. These achievements are a good indicator that universal primary education is likely to be achieved before 2015. Enrolment in pre-primary education has increased from 554,835 children in 2004 to 795,011 in 2007, an increase of 43.3 per cent. Primary school enrolment has risen from 4.4 million in 2000 to 8.3 million in 2007 (half of whom are girls), and the net enrolment rate has improved from 58.8 per cent in 2000 to 97.3 per cent in 2007. The number of primary schools has also increased, from 11,873 in 2001 to 15,624 in 2007. The Primary School Leaving Examinations' pass rate has improved dramatically, from 22 per cent in 2000 to 70.5 percent in 2006. Likewise, the transition rate from primary to secondary schools has been a success, rising from 20.3 per cent in 2000 to 67.3 per cent in 2007.


Increased supply of textbooks and other teaching and learning materials, such as science and mathematical kits, has led to an improvement of the book to student ratio, from 1:20 in 2000 to 1:3 in 2007. This is a result of the introduction of capitation grants in primary schools for the purpose of enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. The Government has also recruited a total of 45,796 teachers and posted them to schools with large shortages of teachers. Teaching and learning environments have improved through the construction of 36,641 classrooms and 12,588 good quality houses for teachers.
The inspection and supervision of schools have been strengthened: 42 remote district inspectorate offices were provided with reliable transport, 30 offices rehabilitated and all district offices supplied with computers for processing supervision reports. In addition, a total of 50,813 previously underqualified primary school teachers have been trained, upgrading their skills so that they had the minimum qualification requirements. Finally, a review of the primary school curriculum has addressed competency-based aspects, its relevance to students' needs, as well as general challenges. With all these initiatives, Tanzania has attained a primary school enrolment rate of 97.3 per cent and is determined to clear the remaining 2.7 per cent well ahead of the MDG target date of 2015.
Despite these accomplishments, there are still a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order to sustain the positive developments of PEDP:

  • continue to improve the teaching and learning environment by constructing more classrooms, supplying furniture, housing and facilities for teachers;
  • undertake regular in-service teacher training to upgrade academic and professional teaching skills, especially in science, mathematics and languages;
  • continue expanding the capacities of key education sectors, especially school committees that manage the day-to-day affairs of schools;
  • improve students' performance in science, mathematics and English, especially for girls; this requires not only changing attitudes but also providing adequate teaching materials and facilities;
  • ensure adequate supply of facilities for pupils who are physically and mentally challenged; and
  • strengthen the provision of care and support to teachers and pupils affected by HIV/AIDS.

To address the challenges that threaten the country's goals of achieving universal primary education, the Government has developed PEDP II as the follow-up phase to build on the achievements made so far, so that the reform of primary education will be sustainable. This Programme covers seven strategic components, namely: enrolment expansion, with focus on ensuring access and equity at pre-primary and primary education levels; quality improvement; strengthening capacities; addressing cross-cutting issues; strengthening institutional arrangements; undertaking educational research; and conducting educational monitoring and evaluation.


In addressing these challenges, the Government is determined to increase both financial and other requisite resources to continue to improve the education system in the country. However, it is evident that, given our economic base, it is not possible to resolve these ourselves without international support. The Government and the people of Tanzania appeal to its development partners to keep on supporting our development agenda so that the EFA targets and the MDGs are realized.