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The Never Ending Road

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education, Tanzania
Lioness at dawn, Ruaha. Picture: Ian Attfield/DFID

Returning from a couple of wet and windy June weeks on holiday in the UK was actually quite a relief from the heat of Dar Es Salaam, but now Tanzania in mid winter is unusually a degree or two colder than the current British heatwave. It's the best time to travel being both cooler and drier, I took my children to Ruaha National Park, down the never ending 100km dirt road and was totally taken aback by the sheer size and beauty of Africa. Ruaha is relatively quiet and certainly unspoilt, we managed a great couple of days spotting lions in the long grass and elephants cooling in pools along the sandy river bed.

Driving back, a distance equivalent of Edinburgh to London, one realises the sheer challenges Tanzania is facing to provide services to it's rapidly growing population. In the early morning children as young as 5 trudge along the side of roads in the loneliest locations. James Stone (Plan International) graphically illustrates the challenges faced by one little girl who walks over an hour and a half a day to get an education, braving traffic and predators, both human and wild.

Picture: Village Voices 2008

Returning to Dar I thought it important that my children understand more about the vast interior of Tanzania and the people who often live in such difficult circumstances.  The Village Voices documentary films made by Laurance Price make ideal, if at times uncomfortable, viewing. They chronicle over 5 years the lives of remote villagers from the Lindi coast to the Northern plains and give a detailed insight into the cycles of grinding poverty and simple wishes for just a slightly better life. Teenagers lament their lost opportunities to go to secondary school for the want of $50 school fees due to a lost harvest.

Thankfully since these films were made in the middle of the 2000s, secondary enrollment has tripled and now over a million extra teenagers attend Forms I-IV, partly due to budget support funding pumped in from UKAID and other donor partners. However the majority still drop out young and as I've chronicled recently a crisis of demotivated teachers and inadequate schools means that for many, secondary school is a frustrating, unrewarding experience.

Boy ploughing. Picture: Village Voices

Supporting education in Tanzania involved some difficult choices in the coming years, how to improve quality and make complex systemic reforms whilst extending the school network for both remote villagers and the marginalised in more prosperous areas?

Some of the most rewarding work I ever did over a decade ago in Ethiopia was to make maps of the mountainous North, that were used to select sites and reduce walk time to new school locations. The Tanzanian government's Big Results Now! Initiative has also established a geographic interface to show district exam pass rate changes graphically. This is being extended with individual school locations and data to drive transparency and accountability, with improving schools being rewarded with additional grants and funding. Whilst the technology has moved on and the internet has come of age, Tanzania is poised to benefit from this approach to improve its network and reduce journey times for young learners. I hope meaningful learning opportunities will reward those who conquer the long and dusty roads.

primary exam pass rates map. Graphic NECTA

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  1. Comment by Jestina Kimbesa posted on

    Thanks for pointing it out Ian, in my early education, i walked 2kms a day to get educated, no wonder only 36 students graduated primary school education in my class out of 75 enrolled in year one. But now its different, they have been more schools close to the villages but still not in average that every child should work at least a half kilometer to school. i admit it is a never ending road.

  2. Comment by Jordan posted on

    Despite what I am sure are all the best intentions, I can't help but be put off by such phrases as "braving traffic and predators, both human and wild" or "the long dusty road". Beyond this quite simplistic narrative of sub-Saharan Africa, you even open by describing yourself on safari (almost too stereotypical to even address) and commenting on how one road in one country somehow represents all of this mythical and monolithic "Africa".

    Having lived in two extraordinarily different countries within Africa for the past five years, perhaps I am overly sensitive to portrayals such as yours. But, let's suspend that possibility for a moment and say the past few years have taught me to be perceptive rather than sensitive. May I then suggest that before you continue your work and your blogging, you google a brilliant satirical piece called "How to Write about Africa" by Binyavanga Wainaina. It may help you to recognize some of the biases that you are bringing and how, without careful attention to nuance, your writing will contribute to a very troubling Western perspective on Africa.

    All the best.

  3. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Hi Jordan,
    If you look at my blogs over the past 4 years, all written from 3 different African countries where I have lived and worked, I try to describe the work I do and soem perspectives about it.
    I think this is the first time I've mentioned going on safari in around 40 posts, apologies if this is a sterotype, but it is something I'm fortunate enough to do occasionally. Africa does have a lot of long, open roads - I've driven 000's of kms and as an aid worker myself, perhaps I am a cliche too?
    I would agree with Wainaina's witty and prevocative piece you cite on the pitfalls of describing Africa as a stereotyped monoculture, but alas some of these are true - at least from the decade I have spend on the continent. Poverty, AIDS, beauty, corruption, love, chaos, hope - you name it, are all out there!
    But of course I'm just an aid worker and trained as a scientist, I'm not a writer or author. I blog in my spare time, so please be a little forgiving of my literary limitations!