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Mbeya , Tanzania

    The constitution and the right to education.

Currently a special Constitution Review committee is making round across the country to collect citizen’s opinions which will be used to suggest appropriate amendments or review of the current constitution, to enable it obtain a national consensus status which focus on addressing emerging socio-economic and political issues in our country and worldwide…

The Constitution is mainly termed as the “mother law” as it provides a framework in which all laws, acts and legislations of the land are drawn and revolve from it.

Therefore, the Constitution incorporates a wide range of issues and rights which a specific society deem un compromised, such as right to life, right to freedom of speech, right to affiliations (political and social), right to start a family, right to health services as well as right to quality education just to mention a few.

Among many basic right to citizens, education is among the most important rights which the Constitution need to stipulate clearly.

The ability to produce and use knowledge has become a major factor in development. In fact, this ability is critical to a nation’s comparative advantage. Information and Knowledge based economy is a kind of economy based solely on the production, distribution and the use of information and knowledge. In short, it means that the most important thing in the coming economy model will be knowledge and skills, not the material products.

The current literacy situation in Tanzania is shocking. By the mid-1880s, Tanzania was one of the countries with the highest literacy rates in Africa, reaching 98 percent.

Tanzania has experienced a 20 per cent drop in literacy rate for the past 30 years, a situation that is deeply worrying education stakeholders in the country. In the 1980s Tanzania had a literacy rate of over 90percent but recent studies as compiled by a UN agency showed that this had dropped to 72 percent (UNESCO, 2012)

The current literacy rate of people ages 15 and above who can, with understanding, read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life is 72.9 (UNESCO, 2009). Children at age 13 complete primary education without adequate reading and writing skills, e.g. about 5,200 children who had been selected to join secondary education in 2012 were found they could not read or write (MoEVT, 2012).

Research findings about reading situation in primary education in Tanzania, from a national survey with children who had completed standard 7 (Uwezo, 2010) show low performance especially in reading and writing skills as follows:

(a) One in five primary school leavers cannot read standard 2 level Kiswahili;

(b) Only 3 in 10 standard 3 pupils can read basic Kiswahili story;

(c) Only 1 in 10 standard 3 pupils can read basic English story;

(d) Only 3 in 10 standard 3 pupils can do basic Mathematics;

(e) Only 50 percent of the children involved in the study could read the words correctly;

(f) About 30 percent of them did not write any of the words in the test instrument correctly;

(g) About 45 percent of the children identified less than four out of ten sounds in the test instrument.

With such levels of illiteracy, the poverty levels of people will continue to increase, as literacy is a tool in fighting against poverty. These illiteracy levels have increased due to poor education programmes and lack of right-based emphasis from the “mother law”.

Article 11 in the current constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania (URT), provide information on education. It stipulates that “every citizen has a right to acquire education”.

Simple translation of this section is that the government has shunned away from the responsibility of providing education to its citizens. As education is very crucial in socio-economic development, the government cannot shun away from such a responsibility taking into consideration that majority of its citizens are living below poverty line, such that they do not have adequate resources to afford household needs.

In order to do away with building social classes this section need to be amended as it does not show clearly that the government has the major responsibility of ensuring that its citizens obtain quality education.

The Constitution should clearly stipulate that “the government has a responsibility of providing quality education to every citizen”, basic on the current socio-economic and political situation, whereby the government is giving more opportunities for the market to run most of social and economic activities including education, many citizens do not have economic means or ability to access education. This denies them their basic right.

Right to education can also be given more weight in the Constitution by providing it under human rights as we know that currently most of jobs demand a certain level of skills and knowledge. It is inevitable fact that Literacy is a vital ingredient in the fight against poverty. Reading, writing and numeracy skills are increasingly required for even the simplest jobs.

Being under human rights, it will give citizens power to demand for quality education and hold responsible those who violate this right. We have observed many sudden changes in our education curriculum which affected performance of our children and general quality of education.

Most of these changes were a result of just a bunch of people who did not feel obliged to consult the stakeholders (citizens) whether they approve such changes or not. The new constitution should clearly stipulate that such changes in the education system should be agreed by citizens through a national forum on education changes.

Many countries worldwide have articles in their constitutions which deal with education matters. For example, the Constitution of Ireland has a number of articles that are relevant to the law on education. Article 42 of the Constitution deals with education. Other articles also have a bearing on education law, in particular the articles dealing with the family and religion (Articles 41 and 44).

It is my hope that citizens will continue to debate on this and reach a consensus on how should education issues appear in the new constitution.

October 30, 2012
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