Independent research into education issues is an area yet to be explored by many EI affiliates. However affiliates who have carried out their own research have discovered that it can be a powerful tool when debating with governments how best to provide quality education. Independent research provides teachers' unions with scientifically verified results that can support their policies and opinions.
Recently, the Tanzania Teachers' Union (TTU) conducted a study into the living and working conditions of teachers in Tanzania. The findings provided strong support for the union's efforts to shift the focus of local debate from mere increases in primary school student enrolments to how best to achieve quality education in the country. Tanzania introduced free primary education in 2002. This led to a considerable increase in the number of pupils in the school system. It is expected that by 2006 all eligible school age children will be enrolled in primary school. Burden on teachers At national and international levels the Government of Tanzania has received high praise for this initiative. Norway's Minister for Development Cooperation has publicly commended the Tanzanian Government for making education more accessible to its people. However, universal access is just a first step. Those who have praised the work in Tanzania, have not commented on the impact the Government's programme has had on teachers, or the quality of education the new students have been offered. Numbers of students in education have taken precedence over the quality of education the system is providing them. Numbers, not quality, has been the preoccupation of the Tanzanian Government and international authorities. The research initiated by the TTU demonstrated a reality far removed from the positive image promoted by the Tanzanian Government and other authorities, it showed the plight of Tanzanian teachers and the poor quality of the education offered the country's children. The study identified low wages, heavy workloads and a level of disrespect for the teaching profession that was new to Tanzanian society. The research made it clear that by ignoring the needs of teachers, education authorities were causing the quality of education to deteriorate. Ted Mhagama, a senior official in the Ministry of Education, recognises that teachers are not paid as well as other professionals. He says: “In other professions, like accountants, bankers, medical doctors and lawyers graduates earn up to $US4000 a month. But not teachers." In contrast, secondary school teachers are paid about $US150 a month and primary school teachers receive less than $US80 a month. Decline of the teachers' status The study also reveals that becoming a teacher was a "last resort" for many new entrants into the profession. This represents a major change of attitude in Tanzanian society. A similar study in 1990 showed that many people entered the teaching profession "to build the nation". More than 40% of teachers say that they would not advise their children to take up teaching. Many said they only became teachers after failing to find employment in other areas. Another finding of major concern was the lack of qualifications of many primary school teachers. Nearly half of primary school teachers had not received a formal education above that of the children they were teaching. With these teachers, in-service training may provide assistance. But, the study found that "in practice, there is no organised, sustained effort to develop and further teachers' professional development." There was also a major link between achieving the goals of Education For All and the impact of HIV/AIDS on teaching and learning. One teacher observed: "HIV/AIDS has created lots of problems for us. If a teacher is absent for a long time, her or his classes are allocated to other teachers and increasing their workload." Another reported: "We have more than 100 pupils in this school who are AIDS orphans. These children need not only financial support but also love and care. I try and do as much as possible, but it is not adequate." A lack of housing, delays in salary payment and transfers added to the difficulties faced by Tanzanian teachers. The recent TTU Congress examined in-depth how best to deal with these challenges and put in place a series of initiatives for further action. This important study assisted the TTU to bring fundamental issues to the forefront of public debate. It also demonstrates to all EI affiliates the importance of undertaking independent research. To download a copy of the TTU's study, go to: www.hakielimu.org