Today is my final day in Tanzania. Things have been fairly quiet and peaceful during the last few weeks – there hasn’t been a lot to write about. I have to finish this story arc, but first I guess I should go through the events of the past few weeks.
A couple of weeks ago I was lounging at Neema Crafts cafe, sipping tea and working on a project of my own (my data structures project that had already taken an embarrassingly long time). It was half past two in the afternoon when I received an SMS with a student asking if I was aware I should be teaching from five o’clock onward. I had no idea. There was no way I could’ve materialized at Tumaini with a proper lecture in time, so I turned down the offer and told him that I hadn’t any idea of this class and was busy with other work. In my country, things like this are based on mutual agreement, not one-sided and tardy notices.
The next day, I received an SMS from another student, asking me why I live [sic] them, and after I explained I was going back to Finland to continue my own studies, the student asked if I could leave my laptop for him to use. Mind you, in Tanzanian culture requesting material aid from one’s superiors is a sign of respect – however, I politely turned down this offer as well. The barrage of strange messages drew to close next evening as I received an SMS from an unknown number, wishing me good night.
I asked Mr. Oroma about the exams – they’ll be held in February, so I’ll be back in Finland before them. My correspondence with Mr. Oroma and other people working at Tumaini University has yet again shed light on the situation of the local education. The exams are practically worthless – “special exams” that practically hand out the answers are held for students who have paid the class but can’t pass the regular exam. I also heard that an American teacher who was volunteering here some time ago was brutally assaulted for actually demanding studying from paying students. It’s a relief I’m about to leave already, I couldn’t have participated in this kind of academic jest with a clean conscience.
The programming MOOC of Helsinki University is just getting started for the third time. A part of the course material, roughly the first half of the course, has been translated into English. The material looks very nice, and it covers a wide range of topics from the very basics to object oriented programming and some useful algorithms like binary search and selection sort. This is what the students of Helsinki University, even those with no prior programming knowledge, learn during the first half of their basic programming courses. In comparison, the students of Tumaini had to spend most of their second programming course getting a hang on the basics, even though most of the course’s official topics are the same as on our course! I shared the course material with the students of the Java course as well as Mr. Oroma as well as asked for their feedback and input on it, but even more than a week later, I haven’t received any replies from them.
As I’m writing this, I’m lounging at a motel in Dar es Salaam. This trip has been a very educational experience – even though most of the lessons Tanzania has given me are about treasuring the way we operate in Finland. Whenever communication has been ignored, bureaucracy has been driving me crazy or a faculty member has been clueless about a topic they should obviously know about, I’ve been wondering… why do the people tolerate this? A man can and will pluck a tick attached to his skin, but it appears the society here is oblivious to the tick of academic inefficiency feeding on the blood of progress.
Thankfully, some of the locals seem to be aware of the problem. A few people at Tumaini are particularly hardworking (my guess is that they practically keep the university running) and are genuinely concerned about the quality of the education being delivered. I wish them the very best of luck in their work – not only the everyday teaching and administrative activities, but also in changing the counterproductive aspects of the Tanzanian academic culture by setting a good example.
A lot of people have been asking me when I will return to Tanzania. I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed being here from time to time, but I am doubtful if I will ever come back to work here. The foundation for education is flimsy – the students don’t know the official teaching language, they are too timid to ask questions and the administration doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. No amount of effort I could put into this would fix it – it is the Tanzanians themselves who will have to rethink what they want their education to achieve and what they need to do to make it work.
From Dar es Salaam with love, Kalle “mzungu mzuri” Viiri