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Stakeholders Rattled As More Govt Primary Schools Transform Into English Mediums

They say the arrangement will create class divisions in the country’s public education system. The government defends it, noting that it just responds to parents’ demands.

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Dar es Salaam. Some education stakeholders in Tanzania have raised the alarm over what they consider an “unprecedented” transformation of public primary schools into English mediums, warning against the perpetuation of class divisions in providing public education services in the country.

The stakeholders, some of whom have been actively working in Tanzania’s education sector for decades, have accused the government, which has been allowing such changes, of “double standards” over the medium of instruction in public schools, with others going as far as claiming that the transformations are “unconstitutional.”

They have noted with concerns the growing interest among public primary school managers to transform the schools into English mediums, a wave they claim has swept the country in recent years, further threatening to “erode” the already “sorrowful” state of public education in the East African nation.

A random survey this publication carried out in the Kinondoni district of Dar es Salaam alone found that government English medium primary schools there increased from just one in 2021 to ten in 2024, confirming stakeholders’ assertion of the existence of an “appetite” on the part of authorities to see more of such schools.

Kinondoni is not alone in embracing English medium primary schools, as more municipalities across the country have been reported to pursue a similar path. Overall, as of April 2023, according to information from the relevant ministry, the government owns 42 English medium schools across the country.

Negative implications

The government has branded the development as “progressive,” aiming to give parents more options for their children’s education and change the status quo that only the private sector can offer English medium schools. But, education experts worry that authorities do not think of the negative implications the change will have on the entire public education system.

READ MORE: In Tanzania, English Is Not Just a Language. It Is a Whole Religion

Richard Mabala, author and long-time education commentator, spoke of the difficulty secondary teachers at public schools will face when they receive students from government English mediums and those who attended regular schools, which use Kiswahili as a medium of instruction.

According to Tanzania’s education policy, English will be used as a medium of instruction in all secondary public schools, except for Kiswahili, History and Morality subjects. On the other hand, government primary schools will use Kiswahili as a medium of instruction, except for those schools which will apply to use English under a “special arrangement.”

This means that government secondary school X will receive students from government English medium and government Kiswahili medium, something Mabala, author of several children’s books, fears will be confusing to learners and their teachers.

“It is very dangerous if you ask me,” Mr Mabala, also known by his satirical name as Mabala Makengeza, told The Chanzo during an interview recently. “I mean, if I’m to write a book for Form I students now, I don’t know how to accomplish that task. Because if you target this group, you’ll lose that, and vice versa, it is true.”

Mabala says a teacher teaching that class will have difficulty balancing each student’s interests: he cannot go too fast because he’ll fail those from Kiswahili medium, and he cannot go too slow because he’ll bore those from English mediums. 

Equal opportunity

“How can one achieve equal opportunity in such circumstances?” Mabala, a frequent contributor on The Chanzo, questions. “There won’t be any equal opportunity. It amazes me that we mix these students and think all will be well when they belong in the same class. No, they won’t.”

READ MORE: Govt Should Stop Perpetuating Class Differentiation in Our Education System

The point of ‘equal opportunity’ that Mabala raises is interesting, considering that it is the constitutional guarantee that the government will provide everyone with equal opportunity to pursue education and vocational training at all levels.

Japhet Makongo, who has spent decades researching Tanzania’s education sector, bases his criticism of the trend on this argument. He tells The Chanzo that the government is walking back on that guarantee by erecting such a “discriminatory” arrangement.

“We have to make decisions based on the interests of many,” Mr Makongo, a founding member of HakiElimu, a leading education NGO in Tanzania, advises. “If we are convinced that the English language will help the Tanzanian child, then let’s make it a medium of instruction in all public schools, not just to a select few.”

Parents’ demands

Tanzanian parents want their children to study at English medium schools, Theresia Evarist Kyara, who heads the early childhood and primary education department at the Kinondoni municipal council, told The Chanzo during an interview.

She said that were it not for the parents’ demands, the municipality would not have prioritised changing the schools to English mediums. Ms Kyara sees nothing wrong with the transformation, describing the classification of the education system claim as “weak.”

READ MORE: Of Tanzania’s Ruling Class and Its Desire to Misuse Words to Achieve Its Ends 

“There are no classes,” she stresses. “There is no way our ten English medium schools can contribute to eroding the quality of our education. In fact, I believe that they’ll improve it.”

Government English medium schools operate differently from those using Kiswahili as a medium of instruction. Parents pay Sh10,000 to take entry forms from those schools. 

Their children will go through interviews to establish if they qualify to join the schools. When accepted, parents pay Sh400,000 as an annual school fee for their children.

The arrangement and the overall environment and atmosphere are different at these schools. The Chanzo visited three such schools in the Kinondoni district and observed various things that are uncommon at regular schools. They have school buses, for example. Their classrooms are clean and well-designed, making them attractive.

Oysterbay Pre and Primary School, one of the earliest English mediums in Kinondoni, had its first class in 2014. PHOTO | LUKELO FRANCIS.

Egidius Mjunangoma is a headteacher at the Oysterbay Pre and Primary School, one of the earliest English mediums in Kinondoni, having its first class in 2014. During an interview with The Chanzo, Mr Mjunangoma supported using English as the medium of instruction at all levels.

READ MORE: Pitting Public Schools Against Private Ones Doesn’t Improve Our Education System

“Tanzanian students struggle with English now because they come into contact with it as a medium of instruction late in their learning life,” Mr Mjunangoma observed. “The solution is to introduce them to the language early. Let’s introduce English as a medium of instruction at all levels. It’ll be good for our children.”

Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. He is available at

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2 Responses

  1. Another very important point is that we have created two tier education system. Upper level (English) for the rich and lower lever (Swahili) for the poor. So far the division was between private schools and private schools. Now government schools are becoming class oriented

    is it surprising then that many parents refuse to send their kids to school? They would rather employ them in farming or chunga ngombe. Because for them education is waste of time. It is only good for the rich who will end up joining the upper elite class

  2. With my experience of going to form one where i had a primary background of which i could speak good English verses my fellow colleagues who got to school and spoke no English at all, within the first school term for those who could not speak English had a hard time however by the time we are completing form one this fellows had already catchup and they were brilliant. so i encourage English should be taught in all subjects from primary school. Kids just have open minds which are ready to grasp things just like that.

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