Education for self-reliance, not estrangement This think piece was scripted in a Norwegian village near a town called Hamar. Less than a week ago I had left Tanzania just as concerned citizens were warming up to the interrogation of a recently launched government policy paper proposing the introduction of an awesome 10-year basic education system.
I had been invited by the University of Oslo. I was member of an adjudication committee evaluating the merits of the doctoral work of a Norwegian scholar who had investigated aspects of the cognitive pitfalls of using former colonial languages that were foreign to the majority as the medium of instruction in Africa.
While in Norway, I have kept wondering as to what could be part of the reason for Norway’s affluence and its technological advances. Was it merely because Norway was a small oil and gas rich country with about 5 million people occupying 148,747 square miles while Tanzania had almost 45 million people squeezed on 364,898 square miles with oil and gas reserves not yet exploited?
I thus decided to visit a school, in Hedmark County, Eastern Norway, called Jonsberg, located in Stange Municipality, 120 kilometres north of Oslo. It is an Upper Secondary School founded as far back as 1847. The deputy headmaster of that school, who was educated in agriculture in Uganda, and an English language teacher of that school, who gained her PhD at the University of Dar es Salaam under my supervision, gave me interviews on the education system in Norway.
I discovered that while the education system in Tanzania has so far been more concerned with schooling its learners in order to estrange them from their communities, country , and continent; the education system in Norway educated its children so they could better themselves and their communities, country and the European continent.
Apparently Norway also had a 10 year compulsory basic or elementary education structure. From the age of 1 to 5, children were sent to kindergarten where they only played, painted, drew and ate using the indigenous national language, Norwegian. The Norwegian 10-year elementary or basic education structure started at age 6, and had 7 years of primary education called “Barneskole” (translating into Children School) (ages 6 to12) and 3 years of Lower Secondary Education called “Ungdomsskole” (translating into Youth School) (ages 13 to 15).
Thereafter, from age 16 to 18, the age of majority, the Norwegian education system provided its young citizen with Upper Secondary Education called Videregaendeskole (translating into Continuing School). English was one of the six common core subjects that had to be taken by all learners.
The students opting for the vocational streams were exposed to authentic agricultural and technical vocational apprenticeship including being involved in production activities on school farm, garages and engineering workshops. This was education for self reliance in action. Only those students opting for the Academics Stream were introduced to subject specializations such as chemistry, physics and biology.
Otherwise, everyone else was only given large dozes of Norwegian (called Norsk) combined with adequate exposure to Maths, English, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Physical Education. Jonsberg had only 240 students despite occupying a large area of farm land and having a staff of 50. Its students took me around the school’s pig, cattle and sheep sheds, as well as around the huge engineering workshops packed with multi-million dollar equipment and enthusiastically demonstrated to me that they had gained education that will allow them to better themselves and the lot of their families on farms and in workshops at home or wage earning job settings.
They were proud to practise their English on me, but otherwise everyone spoke and read in Norsk to everyone else.
Perhaps we in Tanzania should use the interrogation of the recently announced proposal to have a 10-year compulsory basic education structure to debate the best way of implementing Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s Education for Self Reliance. Indeed, we must accept the strong case that has been made for adopting Kiswahili as a medium of educational instruction at all levels of the education system, with English being taught effectively as an important foreign language, side by side with French, Arabic, Portuguese and even Chinese.
Tanzania’s 10-year primary education must be education for self reliance and not merely more schooling for estrangement from one’s community, country and continent.