OVERCOMING LOCAL CULTURAL BIAS IN ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCACY
According to the 2018 Human Rights Watch report “I Had a Dream to Finish School: Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania,” Tanzania has grappled with a shortage of affordable quality education ever since gaining political independence in 1961. While Arusha boasts numerous acclaimed international schools, such as Braeburn International School and the International School of Moshi, only the most wealthy and well-connected students have access to this high-quality education, as the tuition alone for these schools is three times the average annual salary in Arusha. Local government schools are the alternative but even with recent legislation that waived public school fees entirely, many families still cannot afford to educate their children because of other school-related expenses: transportation, uniforms, and books. The local government schools often face teacher shortages and up to seventy students may be supervised by a single teacher, who may or may not have adequate training in the subject area. According to Human Rights Watch, only about half of all eligible students enroll in secondary education in Tanzania, due to socioeconomic factors, language barriers, and lack of accessibility in remote areas; even fewer students complete their secondary education.
In light of these barriers to a child’s general education, it is not surprising to learn that arts education is often left out of the public school curriculum entirely and is rarely part of public discourse on education reform in Tanzania. In a recent article entitled “The Role of ‘Political Will’ in Implementing Arts Education in Tanzania,” Vicensia Shule reports that, in addition to social and economic factors, a lack of political will is the most fundamental roadblock to mainstreaming arts education in Tanzania, a challenge exacerbated by a shortage of trained arts teachers and limited enrichment opportunities for children in general.
As previously noted, I observed a pervasive local bias that privileges foreign initiatives over local enterprise and culture, a destructive legacy of colonization that Michael Nkuzi Nnam terms a colonial mentality: the “unintentional attempt by Africans to continue to live and behave like we did during colonization…It makes us appear to be ashamed of our culture, customs, and who we are” (2007). For Ms. Ng’wananogu, a local entrepreneur, this translates into a significant battle to secure funding and support from government officials, school administrators, parents, and potential corporate sponsors in her community. Ms. Ng’wananogu mentioned to me that if the Spring Arts Camp only focused on traditional cultural practices of Tanzania, it would be much more difficult to create interest. By adding the novelty of piano and violin lessons, parents felt more compelled to enroll their children.
In addition, some public school administrators perceive the arts as a distraction from curricular goals. For instance, in the weeks leading up to the Inter-School Dance Competition, Ms. Ng’wananogu visited numerous schools throughout the city to invite students to participate as competitors. While her intention was to include both government and private schools in the competition, she faced significant resistance from headmasters of the local public schools because dance was not a curricular subject. These headmasters insisted that their students could only participate with explicit permission from the Regional Minister of Education. When Ms. Ng’wananogu visited the Minister and discovered that no such permission was required, the Minister shook his head and remarked, “Some are still caught in the mind of slaves!” Afterwards, Ms. Ng’wananogu described herself as frustrated by what she considered to be a tendency among Tanzanians to follow the status quo rather than try new ideas. A similar disinterest is evident in the commercial sector: When Ms. Ng’wananogu approached banks to sponsor this year’s Inter-School Dance Competition, many executives merely asked, “What famous person is going to be there?” Ms. Ng’wananogu left these institutions empty-handed and paid many event expenses from her own pocket.
This case study asks how entrepreneurial ventures such as the Macooba Center might overcome local bias in favor of foreign initiatives and garner support from educators, politicians, and potential sponsors in order to secure adequate support and funding for arts education.