Last week, graduates from Hoja Secondary School achieved the highest results in its region of 181 schools for the fourth year running! The success of Hoja Secondary is now being replicated elsewhere in East Africa through COCO’s Schools for Life programme. So, why does Hoja Secondary perform so well?
Graduates from Tanzanian primary schools take a final examination. The exam dictates whether they can continue into secondary education.
In 2012, what percentage of students do you think achieved sufficient results to continue their studies?
The answer is… 10%.[i]
Whilst pass rates reached the dizzy heights of 30%, the majority of those passing achieved grades which were technically passes but, in reality, didn’t help anyone to achieve anything.[ii]
It was a similar situation for secondary school graduates, who achieved an overall pass grade of 43%, though again the majority of these weren’t passes anyone would dream of.[iii]
In response, the government changed the way exams were assessed. Pass grades for secondary graduates shot up from 43% in 2012 to 70% in 2014.[iv] The government hailed this as a great achievement, but critics argued that exams had simply been made easier. That said, it is currently being reported in the Tanzanian media that 84% of secondary students have failed their maths exams, so the exams can’t be all that easy!
Our Tanzanian Programmes Director, Oswin Mahundi, explains a couple of the key reasons why Hoja Secondary performs so well compared to other schools in the region.
The first issue is language. How do you think the average school child in the UK would do if they were taught in English in primary school and then in French once they reached secondary school? Probably not particularly well.
In Tanzania, students are taught in Swahili in primary school and then switch to English once they reach secondary school. Learning algebra is difficult enough, let alone when you’re learning it in your second or third language!
An independent study by USAID tested primary school students’ English skills. The benchmark was that students should be able to answer 80% of questions correctly. In Tanzania, 94% of students couldn’t answer a single question.[v]
It’s terrifying that within a few months or years of this study, students are expected to complete all of their studies in English.
At Hoja Secondary, the issue of language is reduced by students attending a course in between primary and secondary schools. In the government system, students are stuck at home for a few months having completed their primary exams, but in the case of Hoja Secondary students are improving their language skills to give their secondary education a kick-start.
This is not to say that the switch in language is not a significant challenge for students at Hoja Secondary, and one which seems to be completely unnecessary.
Another reason is a lack of necessary facilities in the majority of schools. In Tanzania, 42% of the necessary classrooms are missing, as are 79% of the necessary teachers’ houses and 35% of the necessary desks.[vi]
The situation gets worse for more specialised facilities; only 20% and 23% of secondary schools have laboratories and libraries respectively.[vii] These facilities are essential for students to have access to a well-rounded education, but are distributed as luxuries.
Not only does Hoja Secondary have laboratories and a library in which students can study, but the school also has a solar classroom so that students can watch educational films.
Different people learn in different manners and the only way through which students can be empowered to fulfil their potential is to have adequate facilities which promote varied and stimulating lessons.
We have just highlighted a couple of key reasons behind Hoja Secondary’s success here; there are plenty of other reasons why the school performs so well. We could equally have spoken about students having dormitories to provide a safe and secure living environment, students receiving nutritious food, clean water and time for exercise to promote good health or teachers at Hoja Secondary being innovative, capable and passionate about their work.
We’re very proud of the success of Hoja Secondary. The school has achieved a great deal of attention; the school is working alongside two others in the region to improve local education standards and COCO is seeking to replicate the success of the school in four other communities in East Africa through our Schools for Life programme.
We hope that the exceptional standards of Hoja Secondary will spread across the local region, Tanzania and East Africa in general. In the future, if Hoja Secondary is knocked off the top of the charts as standards have risen across the board, we’ll be as delighted as anyone else!
[i] to [vii] Mkumbo, K. (2015) Ten Years of Jakaya Kikwete's Presidency: Promises Achievements and Challenges in Education, Haki Elimu [Online] Available: http://www.hakielimu.org/files/publications/Ten%20Years%20of%20Jakaya%20Kikwetes%20Presidency-Final%20%20Report.pdf