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Announcement of New Subject Combinations Raises Many Unanswered Questions

Lack of transparency and communication are key to the generally negative reaction to major government pronouncements.

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Dear government,

As a columnist with a simple brain, I must make one request: Please limit yourself to one controversial statement, order, or directive a week. How can I cope with all the controversies at once?

I mean, just when I wanted to talk about food aid, local development, and all our current paranoias, they came up with fancy new combinations for our secondary school kids. So, in true Bongo fashion, we have already forgotten the fortified food and turned our attention to the fortified combinations instead!

However, two issues are at work in both cases. The main issue is that a lack of transparency and communication is key to the generally negative reaction to major government pronouncements. Why are we suddenly presented with a new menu with foods we have never heard of without explanation or justification?

This was bound to cause a furore, and it has, so unless the government can quickly come up with another controversy, this might continue. Why cannot more attention be paid to the change process, including consultation, debate, and listening to different stakeholders, leading to greater consensus?

Knee-jerk response

The second issue that troubles me is the knee-jerk response of rejection. For example, Tanzania is not the only country with religious studies as a high school subject, and how sure are we that it will be a widely used combination? 

Now, we can argue about the prominence accorded to such a subject. Of course, we don’t know how many schools are actually going to offer divinity or Muslim studies, etc., as a subject – maybe it is only religious schools or seminaries.

While I have my personal beefs, I respect the Ministry of Education and its sidekick, the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE), for innovating.

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Some interesting new combinations have been offered, which no one has talked about in their blanket condemnations, depending on just one section of the new combinations offered. However, I do have several issues.

Firstly, as I said above, the government is an expert at shooting itself in the foot because it does not consult enough, share enough, or explain enough but comes out with ready-made statements, directives, actions, etc. 

Of course, the key foot-in-mouth foot-shooter is our stand-up comedy Minister, who is concerned with football jerseys, but let’s leave that aside for the moment. The government, through the Ministry of Education, conducted a commendable consultation before developing the new curricula. 

Kudos to them; the result is commendable innovation. However, the largely adverse reaction to the new combinations suggests that there may be a need to consult more about the details.

What’s the hurry?

This brings me to my second point: what’s the hurry? This is definitely one place where African time could have been used. Do we have to start immediately after we have made a decision? When we decide to travel, do we set up without even packing our bags? 

Now that the proposed new combinations have been announced, can we not have time to discuss them? I have seen some excellent suggestions about having more combinations tailored to the inexorable advance of Artificial Intelligence, etc. 

So, are there enough combinations related to the technological changes that these kids will experience, for example, in language learning?

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Indeed, the negative responses, apart from the knee-jerk ones, are a sign that there probably has not been enough consultation, or rather that the consultation only takes place within a relatively small circle that may have elements of being out of touch with reality. Have students been consulted? 

There are those of a gerontocratic bent who think that students are too young to know what is good for them, but they should ask themselves why students vote with their feet. 

Why do many not see the point in going to school? Why are they opting for college rather than high school? If you listen to them, you will find they have good reasons for their actions. 

At lower secondary school, there has been an attempt to recognise that our children have different talents, dreams, and preferred career paths. It is too early to say how this will pan out in practice, but at least that recognition is a first step. 

Even though this new menu of combinations is a recognition of the same kind, have they recognised what the kids really want or need? What combinations would help them reach their dreams?

Thus, why not use this year to use the foundation provided by the announcement of new combinations to further the debate for some time before coming up with a final list of combinations-to-be? This would also allow time for preparation and public education. 


People want to know the rationale behind these new combinations, how they would work, what is in the syllabi, and how they can be useful for their children.

In addition, we would like to know if the teachers are prepared. Are there courses in our teachers’ colleges and universities to prepare teachers for these combinations? Bear in mind that all teachers at this level have to be graduates. 

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And here, I don’t just mean the content of the subjects but the methodologies required to teach these subjects effectively. How much attention do universities pay to teaching methodology, life skills, etc? 

In addition, have the textbooks been written? Do they incorporate the latest learning from our fast-changing world? Or are we still walking when the rest of the world is running?

This brings me to my final point: hasn’t the time come to end the TIE monopoly on textbook writing? Originally, it was an Institute of Curriculum Development. That, on its own, was a huge task: preparing and updating the curriculum and syllabi and ensuring that books developed by publishers conformed to the syllabus. 

At the same time, allowing others to imagine and publish books for education allowed for innovation, creativity, and diversity in the books we give to our students. 

Thirdly, because of the market size, the publishing industry used the profits made on textbooks to publish other books with little or no profit but which were of value to the reading public, e.g., technical books, poetry, etc.

Has giving TIE the monopoly increased the creativity and diversity of our textbooks? Or are they largely condemned to grey conformity? And how can we expect TIE to produce all the books required when all the new syllabi suddenly need new books?

Why the hurry?

Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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