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South Africa and Tanzania Education Policies Comparison


Africa, in the pre-colonial period, encompassed a large number of autonomous societies. Though they had distinct policies and regulations that orchestrated their ways of the norm, some of the policies, especially in education, had some commonality. In the early phase of the colonial administration, some missionaries in Africa believed that they were bringing education to an entirely uneducated society. This deduction would have been compelling if educated people were likened to literacy and formal schooling.

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In fact, a detailed account of Africans, posited by anthropologists, that there is no doubt African societies did possess a customary education. The system worked reasonably well, given the limits by the society within which it had to operate. The main aim of the African customary education was to safeguard the cultural tradition of the extended family, the clan, and the tribe. Although traditional education played a key role in enhancing the education system in society, the system prompted for development of basic learning skills. The analysis focuses on the education policies of two colonial administrations in South Africa and Tanzania.

Education Policy: South Africa

South Africa was colonized by two colonies in succession. Dutch was the first colonial administration to take charge of South Africa’s policy implementation. This was followed by the British reign in the region. Dutch did not implement numerous policies that affected the education sector, but the British were solely concerned with education in the region. South Africa was one of the countries that faced stringent racial discrimination.

This was followed by a racial war between Africans and foreigners. Africans were discriminated against from accessing education, as it was conserved for Indians and Asians only. Ideally, colonial imperialism played a vital role in enhancing the education system among Africans. Administrative decisions regarding educational policy, curriculum and financing in South Africa during the 1940s revealed a deep ambiguity in the official British attitude toward the Union.

On the one hand, the British were increasingly determined to prevent the incorporation of the HCTs, especially in South Africa. They were often compelled to follow the Union’s lead on the educational policy and practices, for two contradictory reasons (Higgs 63). First, the British were determined to build a wall in South Africa increasingly given over racial exploitation and oppression.

Second, the South African administration recognized that the Union government, whatever else might have been said of it, was more generous in its support of “Native” education than the country was, which pushed the South African administration toward a more generous and progressive educational policy. Its purpose lay in the perception that South Africa needed to be strengthened educationally if it were to survive on its own ((Hettne 54).

The place that South Africa held in political importance influenced British policies regarding the general development of the territory and specifically educational policy. While the British in South Africa never established free and compulsory education for the South Africans during the colonial era, it was initiated in 1940 in an attempt to expand the education offered to Africans and to increase literacy rates in all its colonies.

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One method that the administrators in South Africa utilized for the implementation of educational development during the war years was the use of Colonial Development and Welfare Funds (CD&W)1. The initiative was passed in the 1940s and is aimed at solidifying the support of the colonies as Britain faced the greatest threat to its sovereignty, in all its history, at the hands of Nazi Germany. While the act stated “colony,” it also pertained to any British territory. The granting of funds was conducted under the signatory of the state in an attempt to foster education in developing the region (Hettne 32).

Towards the end of the 20th century, Africans voiced their grievances at the end of discrimination in the education system and equitable distribution of resources. In the pre-colonial era, the education system was discriminative and ensured that the Indians and Asians were able to access quality education while the Africans were subjected to basic education. The policy recommended that Africans were taught how to read and write. This was to the benefit of the colonials as they were able to communicate with the African workers. Ideally, the main purpose of education was to enhance communication between foreigners and Africans.

Education in the colonial era was aimed at producing a workforce that suited the needs of the Western countries. The Europeans’ intention was to expand the market for Western consumer commodities. In South Africa, colonial administration needed the lower-level workforce, which enhanced the development of commercial multinationals. Ironically, the importance of Western education for western investment in South Africa grew with the development of nationalism. Western education helped to stimulate local nationalism, and nationalists demanded the establishment of local plants.

Multinational companies in Africa, however, discovered early the advantages of employing indigenous managers who understood local markets and could buffer-local hostilities. Nationalism demanded the Africanization of as many jobs as possible, and multinationals were compelled to appoint local people to higher staff levels (Hettne 45). Increasingly, faces behind managerial desks were African and members of boards of directors included co-opted Africans who lent legitimacy to the companies’ operations. Locally, Westernized workforce, difficult to find in the 1940s, became abundant because of the success of the African universities in socializing local personnel to Western ways2.

Debate on education quality in South Africa has depended on the changing development goals. For instance, post-Apartheid South Africa is re-writing curricula to represent the values of the new regime and promote peace and security. Industrialized South Africa’s new curriculum is also designed to develop important attributes of the flexible workforce—competencies, responsibility, and lifelong learning. However, there is still tension between focusing on basic education for poverty reduction and social equity enhancement and an agricultural endowment.

Education Policy: Tanzania

The education sector in Tanzania was fundamentally affected by the structuring of the policies. The Arusha Declaration and the policy of Education of Self Reliance, embodied by Julius Nyerere, ensured that illiteracy was eradicated in the whole of Tanzania. Its aim was to provide universal primary education and to change the content of the inherited educational system. The achievement of universal education, where all Tanzanian children had access to basic education, was commendable for one of the poorest countries in the world. As a result of its vibrant adult education program, and because Tanzania had succeeded in having its own national language, Kiswahili, as the language of instruction for both primary school and adult education, Tanzania increased its literacy rate (Brock-Utne 16).

During the colonial period, the issue of school fees was one of the issues in Tanzania around which mass discontent was mobilized against the colonial authorities. In an attempt to provide equal access to secondary schooling in Tanzania, school fees were abolished in 1964. The main aim of abolishing school fees was to ensure that the legitimacy of the post-colonial state was upheld.

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Earlier on, the colonial government has enacted the fee schedule in which individuals were supposed to comply within an attempt to access quality education. This restricted a child from a poor family to access basic education. Most of the families diverted from educating their children to the development of initiatives that enhance food security such as farming.

Universal access to education is being undermined by the reintroduction of school fees. On the advice of the World Bank and the IMF, primary school fees were restored in Tanzania in 1984 as a development levy. Tuition fees were introduced at the secondary level in 1985 (Hettne 82). The World Bank also advocated the cost-sharing policy, especially at secondary and tertiary levels. The Tanzanian population has perceived the reintroduction of school fees in Tanzania as an extremely unpopular measure. According to Higgs, difficulty in payment of school fees is a gender issue as well as a class issue. Reintroduction of school fees in secondary schools affected girls more than boys, and girls from the middle classes much more than girls from the upper classes (124).

Apart from high charges on school fees imposed on the citizens during the colonial period, there was a strict policy to use English as a mode of instruction and communication in schools. Tanzanian found it difficult to change from their normal Kiswahili as a language of instruction. The colonial government wanted to ensure that they favor the foreign teachers who were unable to understand the Kiswahili language. Children were forced to master some of the words that were used in the English language. Although Tanzania had more than 120 vernacular languages, the most remorse and universally accepted language for instructions would have been Kiswahili—spoken by 90% of the Tanzanians (Brock-Utne 18).

The economic crisis was pivotal for the colonial regime to diversify its quest across Africa3. Tanzania was given aid by Britain in the form of the English Language Teaching Support Project, financed by the Ministry of Overseas Development as a top priority of British aid to education in Tanzania. They aimed at enhancing the use of the English language in the education system. The political and economic change of focus forced Tanzania to make with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which partly accounts for the increase in the symbolic value of English.

The colonial administration discriminated against Africans in favor of the well-connected Asian traders and European businesses. Although the education policy of 1947-1956 provided primary education and middle school agricultural education for all racial groups, secondary education expanded only for the Europeans and Asians. In 1960, half of the education budget was spent on foreigners, about 2 percent of the population; only 25 percent of the Africans attended primary schools, and the adult literacy rate among Africans was 10 percent (Hettne 124). Access to other social services was similarly unfavorable for Africans. These discriminatory colonial policies nonetheless constituted a unifying force in the African population4.

Although the Germans introduced secular schools to Tanzania in the 1890s, the British who took over the colony after the First World War had a major impact on its educational development. The British administration laid a new emphasis on the political and economic goals of education. A policy of ‘Education for Adaptation’ was introduced in 1925, which sought to combine Western values with the improvement of the needs of Tanzanians.

The government believed education to be the key to political and socio-economic development and expanded its provision. Nevertheless, African education was mainly provided by missionaries in the village or bush schools, which, by 1931, still accounted for approximately 82 percent of total primary enrolments. After the Second World War, greater emphasis was laid on the ‘Education for Modernization’ policy. This policy aimed at developing post-primary education, to provide knowledge and skills for political and economic development.

Consequently, there was a dual system: ‘Education for Adaptation’ for the African masses and the ‘Education for Modernization’ for Asians and European and a few selected Africans. The curriculum and the costs of the two systems differed substantially. The medium of instruction for primary education in African schools was Kiswahili and the curriculum was based on vocational agricultural education (Mazrui 12).

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By contrast, the language instruction in European and Asian schools was English, and the purely academic curriculum prepared children for post-primary education. Unit costs in European schools were five times those in Asian schools, and more than 50 times those in African schools. Although the size of the African system was large compared with the European and Asian systems, very few Africans had access to secondary education. This, therefore, severely restricted their access to formal employment, where the language of administration was English, and for which they were not appropriately trained.

Similarities of the State of Education

According to Moulton, the colonial regime, across the two African countries, focused on indigenous education on Africans. The citizens of these two countries were not allowed to acquire vast knowledge in society (8). Before the colonial regime, education among the Africans was aimed at equipping an individual with knowledge on how to handle family responsibilities. Learning was undertaken through the whole of an individual’s life.

Steps were strictly followed when administering knowledge to an individual, and it was majorly practical. The process was administered by the elders in the community, and all the individuals in the society were supposed to grasp the principles and rules outlined in their teachings. Unlike the current system of education, the traditional education system was not discriminatory. The teacher encompassed formal classes where the venue was by the fireplace at night. The older members of the family taught the younger ones on the importance of their traditional beliefs and customs.

However, following the nineteenth-century exploration and colonization of Africa, the education system changed significantly. The first establishment was that the foreign missions—Islamic or Christian—with interests in Africa, pioneered, and dominated the educational sector for many years. The foundations of European education in Africa were laid principally by nineteenth-century missionaries from Great Britain, France, and later, America. This pioneering work in education should be judged in the context of the mission’s early recognition of the supreme importance of education in the successful execution of their evangelistic assignments.

The status of the education system in Tanzania is linked to their historical past. The traditional education provided by the elders, the church, or the mosque pre-date the establishment of formal education. Christian missionaries, whose aims were furthered by educating the local population to read the Bible, first introduced formal schooling. Secular schools were introduced in the late nineteenth century. Whereas the education system in Tanzania developed from their colonial heritage, South Africa developed its system along European lines, partly to facilitate easier communication with the outside world.

In each of the countries, formal education was initially available only for boys. Although girls’ schools were established, later on, the places for girls continuously lagged behind those for boys. For instance, in South Africa, less than 10 percent of the school-age population was enrolled in the mid-nineteenth century, and only about 25 percent of whom were female. In Tanzania, because of the British policy of education for adaptation, schools were more widespread, and the native authorities had some control over educational provision. However, only 25 percent of the school-age population was enrolled in school by 1960, of which about one-third was female (Moulton 86).

In addition, the current policy framework for both countries is to enhance education for all its citizens. Most of the primary schools and secondary schools have mushroomed in the past decades. Rural areas are endowed with education facilities with an aim of enlightening society on the importance of education—especially in a developing country. Girl-child education has been fostered with the two governments imposing stringent laws on those involved with discrimination. Currently, South Africa is among the countries with the highest percentage of girl-child attending schools5.

Following the attainment of independence by South Africa and Tanzania, the countries have made progress in African education through facilitation for higher education. Prior to independence, the two countries had no universities of their own. Those were not needed for people who were meant to occupy jobs of low status. After independence, South Africa erected various universities including the University of Cape Town—which is the best university in Africa, University of Fort Hare, among others.

While Tanzania had numerous prestigious universities established after independence. Some of them include Ardhi University that was established in early 2007, Mzumbe University, Mount Meru University, among others. Not long after the initiation of these higher learning institutions, the effects of the economic structural adjustment policies started to be felt also in the education sector. The whole educational system from primary through university was hit by these measures. The gains made after independence were eroded.


The domestication of modernity and diversification of Africa’s cultural content will not be fully achieved until Africa itself can influence Western Civilization. South Africa had two colonial administrators, English and Dutch, while the British colonized Tanzania. In both countries, the education system was majorly focused on basic education. The colonial regime wanted to provide the Africans with basic knowledge so that they can communicate effectively when they are given chores.

Currently, the education system has changed significantly with the focus being on the economic development of the region. South Africa has developed a prestigious university that is competing in top-level academics. Tanzania, on the other hand, is endowed with a wide range of universities. Most of the African countries have articulated to independency, and they do not rely on the Western countries to finance their economies.

African countries should focus on the development of the education system in order to compete. The countries are rich in resources, both workforce and technical, and the government should strategize on the effective policies that would utilize these resources. South Africa depends on its local resources, and this has enhanced it in achieving its long-term goal of being a haven of knowledge.

Works Cited

Brock-Utne, Birgit. Education for All -in Whose Language? Fornecedor: Garland Publishing, 2009. Print.

Hettne, Bjorn. Development Theory and the Three Worlds: towards and International Political Economy of Development. Harlow: Longman Scientific & Technical, 1995. Print.

Higgs, Philip. African Voices in Education. Western Cape: Juta and Company Ltd, 2000

Mazrui, Ali. The African University as a multinational corporation: comparative problems of penetration and dependency. London: University of Sussex Institute of Development Studies, 1975. Print.

Moulton, Jeanne. Education Reforms in Sub-Saharan Africa: Paradigm Lost? Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. Print.


  1. Moulton, Jeanne. Education Reforms in Sub-Saharan Africa: Paradigm Lost? (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), 23.
  2. Higgs, Philip. African Voices in Education. (Western Cape: Juta and Company Ltd, 2000), 32.
  3. Brock-Utne, Birgit. Education for All -in Whose Language? (Fornecedor: Garland Publishing, 2009), 18.
  4. Hettne, Bjorn. Development Theory and the Three Worlds: towards and International Political Economy of Development. (Harlow: Longman Scientific & Technical, 1995), 25.
  5. Mazrui, Ali. The African University as a multinational corporation: comparative problems of penetration and dependency. (London: University of Sussex Institute of Development Studies, 1975), 25.

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