The cultural politics of constructivist pedagogies: Teacher education reform in the United Republic of Tanzania

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This article examines recent educational reforms in Tanzania by looking at the cultural politics of pedagogical change in secondary and teacher education. It presents an ethnography of a teachers college founded on the principles of social constructivism in a country where formalistic, teacher-centered pedagogy is the norm. Using data collected through a year of participant observation, it argues that the cultural, economic, and political dimensions of teachers' practice need to be considered alongside efforts to reform the country's educational system. It offers contingent constructivism as an alternative to the international consensus on a single model of excellent teaching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-311
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The goal of SEDP is to complement the country's Primary Education Development Program (2002–2006), funded largely through Tanzania's debt relief agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. With greater numbers of children finishing primary school, it was imperative that a program be developed to allow more children to begin Form 1, the first year of the secondary cycle. With a $123.6 million loan and a $26.4 million grant from the World Bank , SEDP was initiated in 2004 to address the country's historically low transition rate from primary to secondary. With one of the world's lowest transition rates – well below 20% from the mid-1960s through the 1990s ( MOEVT, 2006; Vavrus, 2003 ) – most Tanzanians welcomed the plan to enroll 50% of eligible primary school graduates in secondary schools by the end of 2009, the end of the SEDP funding cycle ( Mkapa, 2004 ). President Jakaya Kikwete, who took office in late 2005, set even higher standards for educational expansion by working toward the goal of a secondary school in every ward and 100% enrollment in secondary school for students who passed the national Standard 7 exam in 2006. Although this goal has not been achieved, there has been an impressive increase in enrollment in Form 1: Fewer than 100,000 students were enrolled in Form 1 in 2003 but nearly 250,000 were enrolled in 2006 ( Sumra and Rajani, 2006 ), with both the gross and the net enrollment rates doubling during the first two years of SEDP ( Woods, 2007 ). Since the program went into effect, it is estimated that 1569 secondary school classrooms have been built, 908 teachers’ houses have been constructed, and 7782 new secondary school teachers have been employed ( Makwasa, 2006 ). Nevertheless, the shortage of teachers and classrooms remains acute. For example, only weeks before the new secondary school year was set to begin in January 2007, it was announced that approximately 50% of the children who had passed the primary school leaving exam – more than 200,000 children – would not be admitted to Form 1 because of these shortages ( Makwasa, 2006; Michael, 2007 ).


  • Development
  • Educational policy
  • International education
  • Tanzania
  • Teacher education


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