Revitalising Life Skills Education in Tanzania: A strategic way forward

By VaLi TZ

Tanzania has an excellent approach to life skills education that has been tested and created at all levels of its delivery, yet it is still failing to achieve the expected results. RELI’s VaLi Tanzania team reviewed the policy’s implementation to understand this gap and has come up with a list of recommendations for policymakers.

The National Life Skills Education Framework (NLSEF) was developed in 2010 by Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) with technical assistance from UNICEF Tanzania’s offices. It had four priorities

  • To revitalise 21st century LSE with a focus on 12 core life skills and 4 pillars of learning
  • To train teachers to use experiential participatory activities as learning opportunities
  • To strengthen non-formal settings for life skills learning and,
  • To improve learning outcomes using ICT.

However, despite overwhelming buy-in from national level education policymakers, its implementation has not delivered the results envisioned.

On paper the strategy is sound. The twelve core life skills it identifies i.e. creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperation, negotiation, decision-making, self-management, resilience, communication, respect of diversity, empathy, and participation are related to the four dimensions (practical, emotional, relational and cognitive) of learning.

Moreover, not only does it emphasize that the life skills are all interlinked and reinforce one another but also that the most effective way to impart these skills is through active participation and collaborative learning methods that are fun and experiential.

It also correctly positions teachers (in school) and facilitators (out of school) working with the support of parents and local communities as the implementors of the framework. The framework even had civil society organisations on board.

That the framework isn’t delivering as expected is even more baffling given that every expert or lay poll on what is needed to reform the Tanzania education sector shows that all stakeholders are in agreement. Policy makers, parents, teachers and learners all assert that the inclusion of life skills in the teaching-learning process is key. So, what went wrong?

While national level policymakers were certain of what they were doing and their intent, this understanding wasn’t transferred to lower level policymakers and implementors.

The framework came to be as part of a larger national conversation on curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS. It was intended to instil positive sexual attitudes and skills to counter a previously too scientific approach to the teaching of SRH and HIV in science lessons such as biology. Consequently, many parents, community leaders and teachers associated LSE primarily with sexual and reproductive health and particularly HIV/AIDS.

Efforts to refocus the intent of the framework have re-articulated its goal as “equipping learners with 21st century skills.” However, VaLi Tanzania’s ongoing study as part of the ALIVE initiative have shown that neither parents nor teachers are clear on the meaning of “21st century skills.”

This poor understanding of life skills has resulted in inadequate resourcing of life skills teaching at all levels- national level bureaucrats find themselves disempowered from including it in the national budget, teacher training institutions are unable to prepare both in-service and pre-service teachers to undertake life skills coaching, school level decisionmakers such as parent teacher associations  under-resource it by such decisions as not investing in teaching aids and teachers deprioritize it in the class.

VaLi Tanzania has identified three key areas of intervention to ensure the framework delivers on its intent.

  • A concerted public education campaign to get Tanzania’s education stakeholders on the same page.
  • Comprehensive and continuous pre-service and in-service teacher training and support: The strategy places high expectations on teachers and their need to wholly transform their practice. This requires radical transformation in their training and that of their trainers and lecturers (in colleges and universities).
  • Mechanisms for inclusion and reaching all children and young people out of school.

The strategy makes little or no mention of inclusion of learners with special needs. This needs to be built into the implementations by specifying coordination with actors involved with out of school children/youth and learners with disabilities. A coordination mechanism which brings together an inclusive network of all key life skills actors and has an allocation in the national budget, is required.

For RELI TZ this experience of having a sound policy flounder has been a key learning on effective policy work. The lesson, it is not enough to have a good policy in place everyone must understand what is expected of them.

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