Tanzania’s complicated education success story


Photo by Andrew Moore, used with Creative Commons license (see Flickr: andryn2006).

At The School Fund, we work every day to provide scholarships to promising students in developing countries, and we see the dramatic change education makes in each student’s life. But sometimes, the problem feels overwhelming. UNICEF reports that 65 million adolescents are out of school. These students face many challenges including the cost of school and supplies, the distance to school and pressure to earn a living.

But that doesn’t mean change is impossible. The former president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, recently reflected on progress in Tanzania between 2000 and 2009. During that time primary school enrollment rates doubled and the number of high school students grew from 250,000 to 1.5 million.

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The impressive growth came at a real cost — both politically and economically. During this time 20 percent of Tanzania’s annual budget was spent on education despite great pressure to invest in reliable roads, support the military and provide clean drinking water. Making the choice to invest in education took courage and confidence that a better educated population will pay dividends in future generations. In his article, Kikwete noted, “Tanzania’s experience proves that transforming a country’s education system is possible, even if that country faces severe fiscal constraints. It is not quick or easy, and it often requires difficult trade-offs.”

While Kikwete’s account is inspiring, it only tells part of the story. Enrollment in primary school has nearly reached 100 percent, but less than 65 percent of children complete primary and only 30 percent enroll in high school. Equally troubling is that just half of students who finish primary pass the primary school exit exam. (For more, check out this  UNICEF overview of Tanzania’s education sector.)

For poor students, indirect costs of schooling remain prohibitively expensive. That’s why we put so much energy into fundraising for scholarships that allow students to attend the best schools in their communities. In 2016, TSF will provide 155 scholarships for students in Tanzania. Support for these scholarships arrives through many small donations — in increments as small as five dollars a month. Each small donation is precious to the students who leverage scholarships to build a better life.

In Tanzania, many students are ready to further their education. Unfortunately the funding isn’t all there yet. Until it is, The School Fund will continue to support bright, financially needy students because each year of education matters immeasurably.



An Interview with Swabra M.

John Medo, The School Fund’s very first supported student, is interning for TSF in Iringa and assisting TSF advisor, Fuad Abri.  In late February, John interviewed Swabra M., who has been supported by The School Fund since 2013.  View her TSF profile and Journal here.  Below is the first of many interviews John has and will conduct with TSF students in Iringa.

Swabra is 15 years old and has no sister or brother.  Swabra is in Form Three at Ummu Salama Secondary School.  Swabra lives at the Orphanage Center because her father died in 2004 and her mother was not able to support her financially.  Her mother lives in Dar es Salaam.  After the death of Swabra’s father, her father’s relatives wanted to take her away from her mother, but her mother’s relatives chose to shelter her at the Orphanage Center, where her father’s relatives still do not know she lives.

Despite these hardships, Swabra feels she had a good childhood under the care of the Orphanage Center, which supported her through primary school at Ummu Salama.  She says that she has never experienced any hardships in her life as she has been under the good care of the orphanage. Yet, Swabra faces the challenge of being away from her mother and notes that some of her classes are difficult, but that she will always fight to reach her dreams.

Swabra’s biggest dream in life is to become an engineer and she says that she will always work hard day and night to make sure that her dreams comes true.  If Swabra could have everything in this world, Swabra desires an education.  She says that while money, big houses, and cars do not last, education always lasts and that she can use it to have a good life.

Swabra believes that in Africa some kids have a hard life and some have a good life and this is all determined by education.  She states that when a society is educated then life can be easy, but if not, it will be the opposite.

Swabra says that TSF is an important instrument for her and for the whole world as it supports students in their pursuit of education and education will ultimately lead to a good life for students.

TSF Tanzania Board Chairman Visits the MMM Center in Iringa

TSFTZ Chairman Fuad Abri Visits the MMM Center.

Since July of 2012, The School Fund has been providing homework help and English lessons to the 60 students TSF supports in Iringa, Tanzania.  These resources are available to the students at the Maisha Mikononi Mwako (MMM) Center  located at the Ummu Salama Elementary School, which is co-located with the Ummu Salama Secondary School, one of The School Fund’s four partner schools in Iringa.  Maisha Mikononi Mwako translates from Kiswahili to “Life in Your Hands.”

On Friday, March 21, 2014, Fuad Abri, the chairman of The School Fund – Tanzania (TSFTZ) and owner of ASAS Dairy Farm Ltd, visited the MMM Center to speak to the TSF students.  Maho Amos, MMM Director and Headmaster of Ummu Salama Elementary School, shared a report of Mr. Abri’s visit.

Yesterday, we had a wonderful visit with Mr. Fuad the chairman of TSF TZ. The students really enjoyed his presence at the MMM center because of the wise, educative, and encouraging words he shared.

The following are some of the points he outlined for the students:

  • He informed the students that TSF’s main objective is to encourage and support academic excellence for all vulnerable children in the developing world.
  • He reminded TSF iringa students how lucky and privileged they are to be sponsored by TSF and told them the only way to pay TSF back is to put even more effort into their studies and produce the best results.
  • He asked some individual students to identify benefits they feel they gain from TSF.  They mentioned the following:
    • Being able to use computers
    • Being able to journal with different people around the world
    • Being able to earn a secondary school education
    • Being able to meet with students from different schools
  • Mr. Abri also wanted to know what ambitions TSFTZ students have for their lives after completing secondary school.  They mentioned the following:
    • Most said they aspire to be doctors
    • Some said they want to be teachers, lawyers, and accountants
  • He emphasized to all students to be self-disciplined and avoid engaging in bad behaviors. He also cautioned them to be considerate of time because time wasted is never recovered.
  • He assured the students that it’s up to them to achieve their aspirations and that working hard in school will aid them in this goal.

Life in their hands

Students listen to local leaders explain the importance of hard work at the reception for the launch of Maisha Mikononi Mwako (Life in your hands).

Written by Lee Marcus, a student at the University of Pennsylvania who is working with The School Fund in Tanzania for the summer of 2012.

Students began to file into Neema Craft Café on Sunday at around 1:30 PM.  “Mambo,” I said, handing each of them a TSF t-shirt. The room was set up for the launching of Maisha Mikononi Mwako (Life in your hands), The School Fund’s new after school program for 31 secondary school students in Iringa, Tanzania. The program aims to give students the tools they need to succeed in school and in life, providing them with academic support and technology training in preparation for high stakes Tanzanian National Examinations.

At Neema Craft Café, the guest of honor had arrived, five media representatives were on hand, and much of The School Fund Community in Iringa was present – headmasters from Lugalo, Ummu Salama, and Miyomboni Secondary Schools, Iringa Region Education Officer Mr. Joseph Mwinyikambi, Iringa District Education Officer Mr. Seme, and of course our students and their families.

Each of these individuals spoke to our students and their families, urging them to take life into their hands. This is a chance, said Principal Muhammed of Ummu  Salama Secondary School, to take life into the palm of your hand, where you control what you can achieve. This is your responsibility, your chance to excel in front of adults that believe in you, said Mr. Benjamin Kabungo, headmaster of Lugalo Secondary School. Madame Ramlah, headmaster of Miyomboni Secondary School, was the last to speak, and waited for parents and other community members to leave. “This is your opportunity, to be disciplined, to work hard,” she said, candidly. “Take it.”

The students arrived for their first day of Maisha Mikononi Mwako, timetables in hand. Students in forms 1 and 2 had English class, in which Mwajuma Abdallah explained in detail the nuances between the definitions of the words “request” and “ask.” One classroom over in form 3, students took a diagnostic test in Kiswahili grammar, language, and literature. Mr. Nkungu took the examinations home

in a folder for marking and analysis. Over in form 4, Hekima Mhole shaded the region on a coordinate plane that depicts the different combinations of mangos and oranges he could buy. The energy and positivity was contagious.

At the end of the day, students filed out of classrooms, looking as if they had just been pushed by exceptional teachers. Some of the form 3 boys pounded me with clenched fists. I felt the energy, the life in their hands, a powerful feeling that made all of us smile, because we are all in this together. Students and teachers believe in each other, and that is what makes our aim, for all of our students to excel, possible.

Technology Training in Tanzania

Written by Lee Marcus, a student at the University of Pennsylvania who is working with The School Fund in Tanzania for the summer of 2012.

After finishing up preparation in The School Fund’s computer lab at Ummu Salama Primary and Secondary School in Iringa, Tanzania, I push the green curtains aside and wait for TSF students to arrive for Computer Camp.  It’s 15 minutes before the start of class.  I’m starting to get a bit restless, excited to teach students more advanced search techniques on Google.

Lee Marcus (right) and TSF student, Elizabeth Mlowe, explore the internet at The School Fund’s new computer lab in Iringa, Tanzania

I see Abel and Elizabeth strolling through the gate, side-by-side.  They are two exceptional students from Lugalo.  Abel, a naturally curious future scientist, is the oldest of four children.  Elizabeth, whose positive energy is contagious, lives with two siblings and her mother.  They are both independent workers and born leaders.

“Mambo,” I say, smiling as they walk into the classroom.

“Poa,” says Elizabeth.

“Fine,” says Abel.  “We came early to check our e-mail.”

I gesture to the computers, permitting them to log on to the internet, knowing that they would each have an e-mail from me.

The first class starts, and Abel and Elizabeth are on opposite sides of the room.  Elizabeth partners up with Debora, a student who used computers for the first time just a few weeks ago.  Abel, who is sitting at his own computer, squirms to the edge of his seat, leaning over to the right to point at something on Martha and Kandida’s computer screen.  He rapidly explains something in Swahili, and Martha and Kandida nod in understanding.

Meanwhile, Debora is moving the mouse from the middle of the laptop’s monitor to the Google Chrome icon.  Elizabeth says, “Double click,” and Debora, smiling, clicks twice, but only manages to highlight the text of the icon.  “Haraka kidogo [a little faster],” suggests Elizabeth, and Debora manages to open up the internet browser.  The two change the website to http://www.google.com, taking turns typing.


I have observed classrooms at Ummu Salama and Lugalo Schools.  Learning often happens in rows, with students learning independently of their peers.  The teacher is at the front, speaking.  The students are at their desks, listening, or answering the teacher’s questions.  The only activities that I have seen happen together are on the netball or football fields.

But in Technology Camp, students have taken time to adapt to different classroom norms.  On the first day, students seemed surprised to be asked to turn to a neighbor and discuss what the purpose of a CPU is.  However, as students began to become more comfortable working together, they started to rely on each other, ensuring that all are learning.

From the perspective of an teacher, building a strong learning community is important.  But watching students begin to build one themselves is every educator’s dream.  And this is what I have begun to see happen in Iringa.

Clinton Global Initiative University 2012: Follow-up

Hi reader! So I’m sure you all remember the Clinton Global Initiative University. One year ago, The School Fund’s founder Matt made this post, reflecting on his experiences at the conference, including winning the Commitment Challenge and meeting President Bill Clinton! One week ago, a number of dedicated team members traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent TSF at this year’s CGIU. They heard passionate, inspiring speakers, participated in constructive and collaborative workshops, and helped spread the word of The School Fund to other hopefuls. We asked a few of them some questions about their time at the conference, and they were kind enough to share their once-in-a-lifetime experiences with us here:

Q: Why did you want to go to CGIU? What were your expectations?

Mariana: “To promote TSF, and network with other young projects in hopes of perhaps partnering with some of them. Also to gain inspiration and motivation from all the amazing speakers!”

Q: What did you get out of the experience?

Sandra: “I loved getting to spend some quality time with some of my TSF team mates, gaining some inspiration from incredible minds like Clinton and Albright, and meeting with young students like ourselves looking to do some good in the world.”

Q: What was the atmosphere of the conference?

Christi: “Focused.”

Sandra: “Hopeful and energetic.”

Mariana: “Dynamic.”

Q: What was your favorite part of the conference?

Christi: “Having dinner with the other members of TSF after hearing Bill Clinton speak.”

Q: What commitments/organizations stood out to you (other than TSF of course!)? 

Sandra: “There were some innovative commitments highlighted by President Clinton including students making bamboo bikes and another hoping to reform the prison system to give released convicts a second chance in the work force.”

Christi: Code the Change is helping non-profits get volunteer computer programming, which is a huge need and an awesome idea.”

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say about the trip/conference?

Mariana: “It was definitely a worthwhile experience. It was a great opportunity to learn from other organizations and from the challenges that other young change-makers have faced (and how they have overcome such barriers).”

A great time was had by all and we were happy to attend another year at CGI U!

Student Spotlight: Daniel Mayor

Say hi to Daniel Mayor.

Odds are, the lives led by Daniel and yourself are quite different. When you were his age – 14 years – you probably would come home from a government-funded school to the house of your parents. Daniel, on the other hand, has no recollection of his parents and normally lives with his grandmother, but is currently sleeping outside in markets, for this is his only opportunity for receiving free (read: possible) education.

Daniel’s favorite subjects are English and Math and he hopes to be a teacher someday. He enjoys reading in his spare time, with his favorite book being Beach Day; Daniel also likes to pass the time by rapping. He’s currently working on a rap song about his school, The Mawuvio Programme. His praise for the school and the opportunities he has are unending: “mawuvio outreach programme i think it is the best school in the world because before i came there i didnt know anything and now i learn a lot.”

Though Ghana is an outlier in children’s education in Africa – with a 95% enrollment rate – Daniel would be subject to losing his education without funding, destined to join the other estimated 470,000 children who are out of school due to corruption. That’s a real-world example of where TSF comes in: head on over to Daniel’s profile page to help him continue his love for the Mawuvio Programme by donating to his 2013 Fund.

Thanks for reading!

Sharing Case Competition Love!

Happy Sunday, everyone!

I thought I would share some of the awesome feedback we received after the UPenn Case Competition was finished. We asked all the high school students to answer some questions about their experience working on the case and share their favorite part of the experience. Their answers definitely put a smile on my face! I love how inspired they all are to make a difference.

Here are some of my favorite gems:

Why did you want to participate in this competition?

My teacher alerted me of the devastating problems of Tanzania and how this competition could help solve them.

I wanted to help out the kids and give them the best education possible because I feel like I have a really good education.

I wanted to participate in this competition because I want to be a part of making education an important part of everyone’s life.

After finding out how little kids in Tanzania needed to attend school, I realized we could be the ones to start a movement. (<— I especially LOVE this!)

How did you prepare for the competition? What kind of support did you have?

We approached the problem one week prior, and worked efficiently after school. We received support from the staff and administration

We thought about what we would want if we were in their shoes. This really motivated us to do our best!

What was your favorite part of this experience?

When I put all the information on a business slideshow. I started crying with its beauty. Also, feeling after I presented was nice too.

I love the unforgettable bonds that I formed with my team. I’ve talked to and spent a week with people I don’t usually interact with, which is really cool.

The everlasting bonds that will last a lifetime. I spent a significant amount of time with classmates that I normally do not talk to every day. I really thank TSF for giving us this opportunity.

Learning that we really take things for granted and that it doesn’t take much to make a change.

It’s always awesome to hear some great feedback! Are you interested in being a part of the Case Competition this April? If so, head over here to learn more about what the competition is all about and to sign up if you’re ready to tackle the challenge! We would LOVE to have you!


Case Competition at UPenn

Members of the winning team pose for a photo with TSF volunteers at UPenn.

Penn Collaborating in International Learning (PennCIL) is excited to announce the successful completion of our second annual case competition! This year, the question that high school students were asked to address was: How can TSF encourage students that traditionally underperform in Tanzanian schools to excel at learning? On February 25, six teams of high school students came to the University of Pennsylvania to give presentations that proposed solutions to this challenging question.

The day began with a short presentation by Roxana Moussavian, VP of Strategy and Development for The School Fund. This presentation included a video on the background of TSF that helped the students understand more about its mission and their role as collaborators in the problem-solving process. Then all six teams made their presentations; they proposed diverse solutions ranging from complex rewards systems to special attention for female students. After each presentation, a panel of MBA judges shared what they thought were the strongest points of the presentation and asked several follow-up questions.

After the judges deliberated, they returned to announce the winners of the 2012 case competition: a team of freshman students from Kensington Urban Education Academy! Choosing a winner was not easy given the high quality of all of the presentations, and we hope that all of our participating teams will consider returning next year. Overall, this year’s case competition was a great opportunity to engage nearby high school students in a discussion about international education while learning from their ideas about practical solutions to real-world problems. We are excited to work with another group of high school students in 2013!

Learning in Tanzania

The School Fund’s first batch of high school seniors is about to receive the results of their national examinations! Our students in Tanzania have been with us since we started funding students in 2009.

The Tanzanian school system follows the British system of 7/4/2/3 with seven years for primary school, four years of secondary school, two years of A-Levels, and about three years of University.

Up to this point we’ve worked only with students in Tanzania at the secondary school level. At the end of their time secondary school, these students take a National Exam called their O-Levels. Students who pass the O-Level exam get placed in an A-Level boarding school by the government.

We have high hopes that all of our students will pass their O-Levels, and continue their education to A-Levels. Best of luck to them all!