Gender and Education in Tanzanian Schools/Lessons from Kilimanjaro

These two books make an excellent pair. In different ways, each deals with central tensions between "tradition" and "modernity," between "continuity" and "change," and between the "local" and the "state." Taken together, they offer compelling portraits of the intersection of gender and education in Tanzania.

Gender and Education in Tanzania Schools includes chapters written individually and collectively by members of the Women in Education Development Group (WED). It takes an open and deliberate approach to the topic of gender and education at both primary and secondary levels. The authors are explicit about how life-course processes, such as initiation into womanhood, shape girls' experiences at home and in the community, translating into lower performance in primary school and consequendy into circumscribed opportunities for secondary education. In addition, the authors address forthrightly the issue of violence in schools by examining corporal punishment and other repressive forms of discipline regularly imposed on school-age children and youths. They urge that instruction in human rights, as prescribed by the United Nations, be made mandatory. At the same time, they advocate greater participation by women in science, engineering, and vocational fields.

Bendera, Mboya et al. frame the discussion in terms of the state. Tanzania is one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa to have achieved near gender equity in primary schools. The abolition of primary school fees in 1973 removed that impediment to schooling, and Education Act no. 25 of 1978 made enrollment and attendance of boys and girls in primary school compulsory. all villages in Tanzania have at least one primary school, and girls make up 49.3 percent of the student population. In many respects Tanzania defies the claim that girls are disadvantaged in terms of education in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, as the authors argue, girls and boys have a high level of overage enrollment that is directly tied to cultural norms and practices. Problems are due not simply to age, size, and maturity of pupils, but also to physical, practical, and attitudinal problems surrounding the onset of puberty. Although parental attitudes toward education may not be negative, when difficult choices have to be made, it is girls' education that is sacrificed first. Furthermore, factors such as family poverty, the need for children's labor on farms and in fields, schoolgirl pregnancy, mandatory student participation in a variety of nonacademic tasks (such as raising funds for the school), distance to school, lack of safety for girls in school, and the perennial responsibility of girls for gender-specific tasks such as food preparation and other household chores compound the problems girls face in attaining education. These problems must be understood in light of the wider sociocultural context in which schooling takes place, as well as in light of the structure and environment of Tanzania's educational system. A rich array of statistical tables supports these points and illustrates patterns found across the country. The tables also provide important data on boys' and girls' own perspectives on their education and their patterns of subject selection. These data illuminate the ways in which gender informs-or fails to inform-policy formation at the national level.

Amy Stambach, for her part, shifts attention from the state to the local level, bringing us intimately into the world of the Chagga of Machame, Kilimanjaro, in her descriptively rich and analytically enticing book, Lessons from Kilimanjaro: Schooling, Community, and Gender in East Africa. She explores how traditional Chagga culture and social life are organized and reshaped through formal, institutional schooling and other Western influences, such as Christianity. At the same time, she examines the ways in which Chagga mediate national educational policies and curricula instead of simply being changed by them.

Stambach emphasizes both the site of the school and the process of schooling to focus attention on the agency of individuals and groups and on linkages between local practices and government policies. This approach enables her to theorize the relationship between history, culture, gender, and intergenerational relations, all set within a larger framework of national government and international donor agencies. Her subtle and informative ethnography tackles the issue of contemporary identity formation in Chagga culture. She analyzes how modern factors such as wage labor, consumption by youth, and schooling have exacerbated structural tensions and conflicts between generations. Bringing individuals to life with vivid portraits, she illustrates the creative ways in which youths wrestle with the "old" and the "new." Education, especially for girls, opens up new opportunities for life. And this is precisely where Stambach's work intersects most significantly with that of Bendera and Mboya.

In Chagga society, elders' control of fertility, marriage arranging, the reproduction of patrilineages (the most salient social group at the local level), and the performance of ritual oblations to ancestors brings girls, education, and tradition into conflict. As Stambach's telling biographies of three Chagga women reveal, when girls become educated, they begin to make choices. She contrasts the "city sister" with the "stay at home mother" to show how education affects girls differently: One achieves economic independence; one struggles for autonomy but fails; and one leaves school to return to life on the farm. Since descent, initiation, marriage, and inheritance have always been economically, politically, and symbolically significant in Chagga, as in most African societies, new choices and opportunities fo girls can be seen as threatening. In Machame, for example, too much schooling is believed to drive girls (and boys) insane. When youths choose to drink Coca Cola instead of mbege (banana beer), they are rebelling against their elders and threatening the status quo. Clearly, the contestations over authority, power, knowledge, and wisdom that emerge from "modern" schooling affect gendered relations in a variety of domains.
Related Results

Stambach unpacks the logic and values that inform Chagga culture. She situates the educational issues in a specific cultural, social, and historical context while taking care to make explicit how local formulations and interpretations are linked to wider processes and structures. In this way, her work connects with that of Bendera and Mboya et al., whose statist perspective also emphasizes the relevance of life stages, especially puberty and initiation, in shaping girls' experiences and opportunities for education. However different their methods and analytic orientations, both books show the salience of gender in shaping life experiences and of schools in creating a national social order through homogeneous curricula, especially those dealing with agriculture and home economics.

Taken together, these two volumes present a wide range of issues and data that illuminate the multiple dimensions of education and gender in Tanzania. Each is strong in its own right; taken together, they do much to advance our understanding of the complex relationship between education and society.

Karen Porter

University of Puget Sound

Tacoma, Washington

S. J. Bendera and M. W. Mboya, eds. Gender and Education in Tanzanian Schools. Dar es Salaam: Dar es Salaam University Press, 1998. Distributed by African Books Collective Ltd., The Jam Factory, 27 Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 IHU, UK. ix + 153 pp. Tables. Bibliography. $14.95. Paper.

Amy Stambach. Lessons from Kilimanjaro: Schooling, Community, and Gender in East Africa. New York: Routledge, 2000. xv + 206 pp. Illustrations. Photographs. References. Index. $19.99. Paper.
Porter, Karen "Gender and Education in Tanzanian Schools/Lessons from Kilimanjaro: Schooling, Community, and Gender in East Africa". African Studies Review. 17 Feb, 2009.

  • Google+
  • PrintFriendly