This article looks at the digital divide in education in Tanzania exacerbated by COVID-19 and suggests ways of minimizing educational inequalities. The aim is to achieve inclusivity in digital learning in the rural-urban and rich-poor dimensions.
On an early morning Wednesday, I was running Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) with the Region’s Administrative Secretary (RAS) and Regional Education Officers in Mtumba City, Dodoma region. The respondents unanimously stated that authorities need to do more about ICT in the education sector. In a developing country like Tanzania, one of the overarching aspirations is to eradicate poverty and inequalities through education. These objectives are consistent with the country’s mid-term National Five-Year Development plans. These emphasize the relevant role of education in eradicating poverty, which will result in sustainable and inclusive economic growth. According to the World Bank’s report, the impressive economic growth has averaged 6% annually since 2000. Yet, it needs to be more inclusive. Economic growth is not translating to welfare improvement of the public or poverty reduction.
Primary education sector
In Tanzania, primary education spans seven years for children aged 6-13. The President’s Office-Regional Administration and Local Government (PO-RALG) is responsible for implementing the digital policy in primary education. Meanwhile, the Education Ministry formulates the relevant procedures to bolster technology uptake in the sector. Since the introduction of the Fee-Free Basic Education Policy, the number of grades I-VII pupils enrolled increased. For both public and private primary schools, the number of enrolled students increased from 10,605,430 students in 2019 (pre-COVID-19) period to 10,925,896 students in 2020 (during the pandemic) to 11,420,973 students in 2022 (post-COVID-19 period) .
The recent increase in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the available resources, especially in public schools. These were hard hit because their ICT access is low compared to private schools. Moreover, high-end private schools provide their learning facilities with state-of-the-art computer labs. Thus, advanced technologies like Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS), such as Carnegie Cognitive Learning, that provide tutorial support to students can cushion these educational gaps to achieve equality, especially in public primary schools in remote rural districts. Therefore, the government should reallocate resources to strengthen modern and advanced e-Learning practices in primary education.
Digitalization of the education sector
The Tanzanian education sector has made efforts to integrate ICT into primary education. Despite these efforts, ICT is still taught in relatively few urban primary private and state-run schools. In turn, ICT uptake exacerbates rural-urban and rich-poor educational inequalities.
In recent years, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the private sector (mobile operators), implemented online learning following the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media platforms like WhatsApp enable sharing homework, assignments, and pre-recorded videos.
In this digital transformation era, the government should digitalize the education sector by investing more in EdTech to scale up digital learning applications, especially in public primary schools. It will enable teachers and students to familiarize themselves with digital learning. Second, in collaboration with the private sector, the government should develop a national e-platform or an online education hub and capacity building for teachers, students, and education practitioners to sharpen their tech skills for quality delivery of ICT education. Third, create a supportive ICT-enabled infrastructure that will run smoothly in schools from the regional to the village level. Fourth, long-term plans should focus on achieving the One Laptop Per Child target while aligning the country’s policies with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 for inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
Some assume that virtual learning is the next best learning alternative in these modern, challenging times. Others are skeptical of its inclusivity. The latter reflects the situation in Tanzania in the sense that e-learning following COVID-19 has contributed to educational inequalities. It is mainly the case among children from poor households and public primary schools in rural districts.
About the SVSS initiative
This article is part of Southern Voice’s “State of the SDGs” initiative. It provides evidence-based analysis and recommendations to improve the delivery of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a collaborative program, it compiles a broad range of perspectives usually missing from international debates. The report aims to fill an existing knowledge gap, enriching the SDG discussions and leveling the playing field with new voices from the Global South.