Enrolment rates rise in Tanzania with free secondary education


As Tanzania seeks middle-income status, strengthening the education system has become a high priority. The past 20 years have seen substantial progress in improving access to education and enrolment rates. Service provision by the private sector has also expanded significantly, with international schools becoming more popular. In 2015 the government abolished fees for public secondary schools, which led to a surge in enrolment. International partners have been actively involved in furthering the growth of universal secondary education and increased enrolment in higher education (HE).

Budget Boon

The FY 2017/18 budget guideline outlines initiatives to strengthen the education system at every level. These include rehabilitating school infrastructure, training more teachers to meet growing demand, enhancing school inspections, developing a sustainable financing system for free basic education, and increasing the use of ICT in teaching and learning.

In the FY 2016/17 budget the government committed TSh4.7trn ($2.1bn) – 22.1% of total expenditure excluding debt servicing – to education. The funding aimed to expand free basic education, improve infrastructure, provide loans for HE students, and strengthen research and development. Specific allocations included: TSh483.8bn ($220m) for loans to students attending HE institutions; TSh70bn ($31.8m) for maintenance and operations at universities and institutions focusing on science and technology; and TSh2.29bn ($1m) on quality assurance in schools. Supporting HE students is essential to broadening access in a country where a bachelor’s degree costs TSh2m-3m ($910-1365) per year, while GNI per capita is just $900, according to the World Bank. Therefore, student loans are a priority area in the FY 2017/18 budget as well.

Successive governments have pledged to boost technical and vocational education, with mixed results; the existing infrastructure is good, but its reach is limited. The FY 2016/17 budget allocated TSh44.6bn ($20.3m) to this, with 81% going to vocational training colleges.


The education system is based on the Education and Training Policy of 2014, which outlines one year of compulsory pre-primary education at age five, followed by seven years of primary school. Following primary school pupils may move on to secondary schools, which operate in two cycles: the “ordinary levels” from I to IV, and the “advanced levels” of V and VI. Some students move to vocational education upon completion of grade IV, while others take vocational courses after their advanced level examinations. Increasingly, students are attending Tanzania’s burgeoning universities and colleges.

Free Schooling

One of the most momentous developments in education in recent years came on November 27, 2015, when the government issued Circular 5, a policy delivering on the previous year’s pledge for free primary and secondary school education for all citizens. Legally, Tanzanians are now able to attend school for 12 years from the age of five to 16 without charge. The policy has been a great success, with the World Bank reporting a “massive influx of new students”, although exact figures were not available at the time of press.

The circular stated that “provision of free education means pupils or students will not pay any fee or other contributions that were being provided by parents or guardians before the release of the new circular”. While fees at public schools were only TSh20,000 ($9.10) a year for day pupils and TSh40,000 ($18.19) for boarders, these were still a burden on the lowest-income groups.

Moreover, these fees were often accompanied by other charges, including schooling equipment and examinations fees. These would often push the total cost of sending a child to school above the TSh100,000 ($45.48) mark per year. However, the costs of educational materials, such as books, pens and school clothes, are still not exempted under the new measures.

Approximately TSh18bn ($8.2m) was immediately released to cover the cost of implementing the directive, with a further TSh137bn ($62.3m) earmarked for covering the cost of free secondary education for all. The measure advances the government’s constitutional obligation to provide universal free primary education, and moves Tanzania towards meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 of guaranteeing “equitable and quality primary and secondary education”.

Given the scale of the policy, it is not surprising that a few setbacks have been identified in its implementation. A study by international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) published in February 2017 noted that even without fees, schooling can be an expensive undertaking for low-income groups, due to non-fee costs such as school supplies, uniforms, transport to and from school, and accommodation for those living far away. Without the income from fees, schools have sometimes been left short of funds. HRW urged the government to increase funding to cover the gap.

New Support

It was announced in February 2017 that substantial support in implementing the fee-free education policy would come from new financing from the World Bank. The $80m credit “aims to support the government’s efforts to manage the challenges of accommodating the surge in primary and lower secondary students”. It also aims to support efforts to raise the proportion of pupils who stay in secondary school, in addition to elevating the standard of education.

The Education Programme for Results aims to help the country meet these goals, with the World Bank and other international institutions from the UK and Sweden contributing a total of $257m between 2014 and 2018. The funding will be disbursed on the successful achievement of agreed goals, in this case improving learning outcomes and system reforms, thereby increasing the incentive for the government to push ahead with improvements to the system.

Universal free schooling is also being supported by the UK, which is investing £150m between 2013 and 2020, with funds directed towards improving the quality of education, particularly for girls and children with disabilities. According to Rory Stewart, then-UK minister of state for the department for international development, plans are under way to improve the quality of education for schoolchildren in rural areas.


As of 2015, the last year for which figures were available at the time of press, there were 16,900 primary schools in mainland Tanzania, with 16,000 in the public sector and 900 in the private sector. At the secondary level there were 4700 schools: 3600 public and 1100 private. As the figures indicate, the private sector is more active at the later stages of education. For instance, there are 92 private colleges and 34 public ones. Some 8m children were enrolled in public primary schools, with 287,000 in private primary schools. At the secondary level, 1.4m pupils attended public schools and 337,000 went to private ones. HRW found that just 52% of the eligible population attend secondary schools; however, this number is expected to soar as the introduction of free secondary education takes effect.


Tanzania has made solid progress in improving access to schooling over the past two decades, particularly with the introduction of free primary schooling in 2002. Even so, there are geographical disparities, as seen in the varying net enrolment rate (NER) figures. The NER is the number of pupils of an age group who are enrolled at school – in this case the primary school age group is six to 12 years old – divided by the total number of children in that age group.

Urban areas have a higher NER in primary school than rural areas. For example, in the latest census, conducted in 2012, the urban NER was 90.6 compared to 72.3 in rural areas, up from 83.7 and 65.4, respectively, in 2002. Dar es Salaam had an average NER of 91.6, while the ratio in Tabora was just 55.9. Overall, the primary school NER rose from 69.1 in 2002 to 76.8 in 2012.

Primary school attendance by girls is proportionately higher than that of boys, with a female NER of 78.4 compared to a male NER of 75.2, up from the 2002 figures of 69.9 and 68.3, respectively. The difference in gender enrolment rates becomes more distinct at the secondary level, when female rates drop considerably.

Gender Disparities

An October 2016 report by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) claims that Tanzania has nearly achieved gender parity in primary education, though many girls are still withdrawing from secondary school. This is evident among women aged 20-24; only 20% completed secondary schooling, while 20% have no formal education. According to government figures, 3045 girls dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy in 2014.

Large numbers of girls leave around the ages of 16-18, but retention rates have improved in the earlier stages of schooling, as shown by figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. In primary standard I-VII, 50.8% of registered pupils were female in 2015. By secondary grade IV the proportion remained relatively stable at 47.8%, an improvement on 45.5% in 2010. However, the proportion of girls in grade V of secondary school was just 32.6% in 2015, down from 39.9% five years before. Similarly, in secondary grade VI girls made up 33.1% of the student body, down from 41% in 2009.

This issue is particularly acute in the public sector, where females only made up 30.1% of grade V and 27.6% of grade VI in 2015. In private secondary schools the gender balance is maintained longer, with females accounting for 47.1% and 48.5% of pupils in grades V and VI, respectively. In the earlier stages of private secondary education, the balance is slanted towards females, who accounted for 52.3% of all grade IV pupils. The introduction of free secondary school education should redress this balance, as it will ease the financial pressures on families sending their daughters to school.

International partners are playing an important role in addressing the issue, for example the US Let Girls Learn programme, launched in March 2015, initially focused on Tanzania and Malawi. Let Girls Learn aims to reduce the barriers to secondary schooling faced by girls; support programmes that improve access, such as literacy schemes; and empower adolescent girls with skills in fields such as finance, digital literacy and agriculture. Under the scheme, USAID is working with US consultancy World Education’s Bantwana Initiative, which seeks to address societal and economic factors that limit female enrolment in school.


Improving English literacy rates and updating the way it is taught in school is increasingly important in the modern Tanzanian economy. According to the winning report of the 2014 Education Development Trust Award, English was most successfully learnt in Tanzanian classrooms when Kiswahili was used as the language of instruction. The report on Tanzanian teaching practices also found that the quality of education must be improved, as students from families that cannot afford private schooling or additional tuition tend to fall behind. The 2012 census found that only 13.4% of the population was literate in Kiswahili and English.

Tusome Pamoja

USAID’s October 2016 report noted that while Tanzania has had success in improving access and equity in the education system, there is still considerable scope for further growth. Reading skills are a particular problem, as fewer than one in 10 students in the younger school grades are able to read with adequate comprehension, according to USAID. A central reason for this is the shortage of qualified teachers and teaching materials. Only 25% of teachers in early-grade education have received training and 25% of classrooms do not have Kiswahili textbooks.

To help address the challenges of child literacy, USAID has developed and is funding the $67m Tusome Pamoja (Let’s Read Together) programme for grades one to four in Tanzania. The scheme’s main goal is to increase the proportion of children who can comprehend USAID’s grade-level test, solve grade-level arithmetic questions and “respond to simple writing prompts”.

Tusome Pamoja is expected to benefit 1.4m children at 3000 public primary schools from 34 districts chosen for the programme. If successful it will be used as a model for future locally driven educational reforms for reading, writing and arithmetic. The programme, running from 2016 to 2021, is oriented around results and follows international models of best practice, focusing on phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. Materials are being developed for the programme to help the teaching of reading, such as teaching manuals and supplementary readers in Kiswahili for students. USAID is working in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training, and the President’s Office for Regional Administration and Local Government on the programme. Its goals entail building capacity at national, district and ward levels to help develop and apply guides for teachers and teaching materials; building support for teachers; and data collection to support evidence-based policymaking.

Another partner is RTI International, a non-profit research institute that has played a role in implementing a programme similar to Tusome Pamoja in Kenya. This has involved collecting and analysing classroom data for use by the other stakeholders, running workshops and training sessions, and overall technical leadership and management. RTI’s involvement is indicative of the opportunities for international organisations to participate in the development of education in Tanzania.

International Schools

International schools play a major role in the private sector, as the affluent middle class grows and more expatriates taking hydrocarbons jobs move to the country. The segment includes private schools that use “international” as a brand and long-established institutions, such as the International School of Tanganyika (IST) and International School Moshi, whose graduates often go on to attend esteemed universities in Europe and North America.

Top international schools traditionally have a high proportion of expatriate children – around 80% in the case of IST – coming from a wide array of countries, as well as many international teachers. The drop in oil prices and foreign investment has meant that schools of this type have felt the squeeze. That said, with the growing local middle class and middle-income expatriates providing fairly robust demand, newer international schools are faring well. Some schools in the segment have shifted towards a focus on the affluent domestic market, seeing scope for growth over the longer term. With justification, parents see schools with internationally recognised curricula as institutions that provide higher quality education, thereby raising the chances of their children going to reputable universities abroad.

“Schools that establish quality can do well,” Martin Hall, former director of IST, told OBG. “Anyone with money is seeking to send their children to international schools and there is room for more schools to open, although setting them up can be a bureaucratic challenge.” The past two decades have seen a number of new international schools established in Tanzania to meet this growing demand. Kenya-based Braeburn Schools opened a branch in Dar es Salaam in 2015 and is opening a new infant school in September 2017.

Dar es Salaam International Academy – whose student body is divided around 50:50 between Tanzanians and expatriates – opened its doors in 2003 as a primary school for kindergarten to fifth grade. Following successful initial years, it received authorisation to open a secondary school for grades six to 10 in 2009. It is in the process of launching advanced secondary schooling and is moving all its secondary classes to a new campus. Despite the drop in demand for international schools in 2016, the lower levels of the school are oversubscribed.

Higher Education

HE has also flourished in recent years, as the growing young population has sought more opportunities to get ahead in an expanding and increasingly international economy. In 2007 there were 33 HE institutions: eight public universities, four public university colleges, 10 private universities and 11 private university colleges. By 2016 this had grown to 49 institutions; the number of public full universities rose to 12, though public university colleges fell to just two, while the number of private institutions nearly doubled, with 21 universities and 14 university colleges. The number of students at HE institutions rose 82% from 123,000 in the 2009/10 academic year to 224,000 in 2014/15, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5%. In the public sector student numbers increased from 89,500 in 2009/10 to 151,000 in 2014/15, while private institutions saw enrolment rise from 34,000 to 73,500, representing CAGRs of 9.1% and 13.7%, respectively. The HE student body remains weighted towards men, who accounted for 65% of the total in 2014/15, almost the same proportion as five years earlier.


The government has prioritised education as a key part of long-term economic and social development. The move to abolish fees for public secondary schools and its swift action on these plans demonstrate its commitment. International partners and private contractors are playing an important role in supporting universal education as well, particularly with regards to raising educational quality.

Tanzania’s educational targets are still a way off, but efforts to progress towards them are well under way. Meanwhile, increasing demand from Tanzanians is likely to support continued growth of the private education segment. As the public system will take some time to turn around, private providers will remain an important part of the sector for the foreseeable future.

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The Report: Tanzania 2018

Education and Health chapter from The Report: Tanzania 2018

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