Sunday, 13 January 2013

Cities and children in Tanzania

As a companion piece to last year's State of the World's Children report, UNICEF also produced this report on cities and children in Tanzania. Still predominantly rural and known for post-independence 'villagisation', Tanzania is nevertheless urbanizing rapidly. Many of the themes here are familiar from several other studies of urbanization. As elsewhere, there is difficulty surrounding the classification of rural and urban areas, with some large, heavily populated areas continuing to be classified as rural.

As elsewhere there is an urban advantage for children on average. Urban primary schools are better according to most indicators: teacher/student ratios, expenditure, examination results. Pre-schools are more available in urban areas. But as elsewhere, there are many deprived urban areas where this urban advantage is small or perhaps even reversed. A recent survey of 3 districts of Dar es Salaam  found on average 81 pupils per classroom, and reported that teachers often offered private tuition and pupils reportedly risked being put at a disadvantage if they didn't take it. Household survey evidence suggests that costs are more of an obstacle in urban than in rural areas.

In its education section the report struggles a bit with a lack of concrete information, specifically comparing urban poor, urban rich, rural poor and rural rich and can only exhort that "Accurate information is urgently required..." on education for underprivileged urban students. It draws mainly on recent research from the organization Twaweza and its initiatives Uwazi and Uwezo, the latter a 'citizen movement based' approach to assessing literacy and numeracy in East Africa, inspired by ASER in India. It includes some new analysis of inequalities in test scores. But many of the problems highlighted - such as teaching by rote - are no doubt widespread in both rural and urban areas, and some probably affect middle-class students as well as the poorest, highlighting the need for good research that compares across categories.

As has been argued in other contexts, the report notes that national policy and programme frameworks continue to target mostly rural poverty. It argues that gathering sub-municipal data is therefore a "priority for planners, service providers and communities" and calls for urban partnerships to make Child Friendly Cities. For education it recommends that "efforts in cities should aim to achieve an inclusive, affordable model that could be gradually expanded until the promise of the reform – universal quality education – is fulfilled". Broad as it is, I'm not sure the evidence presented speaks in favour of that recommendation. An alternative view might be that the education system simply needs to be expanded massively as soon as possible, not gradually, because it is failing to provide at all for large numbers of urban students. But in the absence of more concrete evidence on urban inequalities and access, it is difficult to say precisely what kind of reform is needed. Ultimately the set of policy implications - decentralise, enhance teacher performance, strengthen local and school governance - are boilerplate and lacking in specifics, and especially in specifics that have an (urban, Tanzanian) evidence base to support them; but that is perhaps inevitable for a report of this kind. It is still a very valuable and interesting report, hopefully marking that the State of the World's Children report is just the beginning of an interest in urban deprivation at UNICEF, and that the constant "urgent" calls for better data and research will, at some point, be followed up.

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