4 minute read


History & Background

Tanzania is about twice the size of California or 939,652 square miles in area (363,950 square kilometers). Its capital city, Dar es Salaam, has nearly 2 million residents. The proposed new capital, Dodoma, has just over 1 million residents. Tanzania has 32 million people. Zanzibar has 1.5 million people, while mainland Tanzania has 30.5 million inhabitants. Most Tanzanians live along the edges of the country on the coast and in the mountains, such as the Kilimanjaro region, the Pare, and the Usambara Mountains of the north. Many also live along the fertile lakeshores of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika and along the fertile southern highlands. The center of the country is very dry, sparsely inhabited, and infested with tsetse flies that cause sleeping sickness in cattle and humans. This limits population buildup despite desirable land. Similarly, the fertile southern highlands are under populated due to disease; this explains why no dairy industry has developed there. Tanzania's population is growing at 2 percent per year, modest by African standards. Approximately 75 percent of the population is rural, and most people are subsistence farmers or pastoralists. The remaining 25 percent live in a handful of cities, such as Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Arusha, Moshi, Bukoba, Iringa, and Mwanza. Tanzania's urban population, however, is exploding. At independence in 1961, only 6 percent of Tanzanians were urban. Most urban growth is due to rural to urban migration. Roughly 99 percent of Tanzanians are Africans with the remaining 1 percent divided among East Asians, Europeans, and Arabs.

Life expectancy at birth is 42 years, and the infant mortality rate is 104.8 per 1,000 births. Tanzania has 1 doctor for every 22,900 people. The average person consumes 87 percent of the recommended daily caloric intake. Tanzania's African population can be divided into 120 ethnic groups. The majority is of Bantu origin, and the largest ethnic group is the Sukuma. Nilotic speaking groups such as the Maasai, are also quite large. Tanzania's population is 30 percent Christian, 30 percent Muslim, and 40 percent animist.

Tanganyika is a republic, which attained self-governance on 9 December 1961 within the British Commonwealth of Nations. It attained complete independence in 1962 and became a republic. By 1964, mainland Tanganyika united with the People's Republic of Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

No Tanzanian African languages were written, so youth learned by listening carefully to older people and by watching and imitating their behavior. Having a good memory was important. The Waswahili ethnic group was formed between A.D. 200 and 500 along the Tanzania and Kenya coasts. These people are Bantu speaking Africans who intermarried with Arabs, East Indians, and Portuguese. Their language reflects these mixtures because it includes many Arabic and Hindi, as well as Portuguese and German, loanwords. Originally it was written by using an Arabic script, with extra letters to denote vowels; today written Swahili uses the Roman alphabet. From A.D. 700 on, Arabs colonized large regions of Tanzania. They introduced both spoken and written Arabic through Koran schools, which they used to teach their religion, Islam. Swahili speakers lived in coastal city-states, much like ancient Athens in Greece. Malindi and other city-states traded with distant lands, such as India and China. Armed struggle was ongoing against foreign invaders and by the early 1500s the Portuguese, using technology unknown in East Africa at the time, conquered many Swahili city-states. The Portuguese ruled the East Coast of Africa for roughly two centuries, but the Swahili never accepted them, and constant war was the norm.

When Germany colonized what was then Tanganyika in the 1880s, it introduced European education, science, mathematics, and engineering, as well as the German language. Such education went no further than elementary school and was limited to a few missionary-controlled schools.

In 1891 the German Governor, Von Soden, created a Western system of education to help cement the loyalty of Africans and provide inexpensive labor. The difficulty experienced suppressing the Bushiri Muslim revolt engendered respect for Islam in Von Soden. He paid Muslim teachers to visit government schools and used Swahili as the main medium of instruction. In an official 1903 circular he stated that his goals were:

  1. To enable the native to be used in government administration.
  2. To inculcate a liking for order, cleanliness, diligence, and duty and a sound knowledge of German customs and patriotism. (Cameron 56)

From 1918 on, England administered Tanganyika and Zanzibar as League of Nations Trust territories. England added government subsidies to the German educational system, but otherwise did not fundamentally change it. Mission schools offered basic literacy, hygiene, mathematics, and religious and moral education. Most Africans found schools disruptive of their agricultural cycles and avoided them as superfluous.

Under a dual mandate England was to control Tanganyika and Zanzibar until they could learn to govern themselves, at which point it was to grant them independence. Fearing that this would not take place, Julius Nyerere argued in favor of immediate independence following World War II, and, in 1961, Tanganyika peacefully won its independence. Tanzania however was ill prepared for independence. The first secondary school was opened in 1930, and when World War II ended in 1945, only one school offered education through the twelfth grade in the entire country. It had six students. Colonial education expanded after 1950, but mainly in urban areas. Bright high school graduates were sent to Makerere College in Uganda or the Royal Technical College in Kenya (Nairobi University). By 1959 only 70 Tanzanian African had earned university degrees and 20 of these were teachers.

In 1954, less than 10 percent of Tanzania's children were in school. The colonial educational system was inadequate for the needs of an independent nation. Illiteracy was so widespread that elementary education was offered to all who desired it. Talented students won seats in high schools and at universities free of charge. After independence, education was offered by the government to all who could prove that they could benefit from it. As costs mounted, this policy became too expensive and was modified.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceTanzania - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education