Rampant absenteeism by teachers in primary and secondary schools has been cited as a major factor for deteriorating standards of education in the country.
According to a recent study, teacher absenteeism is so widespread that some classes simply do not take place, especially in secondary schools. Moreover, many primary and secondary schoolteachers fail to teach their lessons even when they are present.
A recent survey conducted by UWEZO, an educational lobby, shows that absenteeism among primary schoolteachers is relatively lower compared to secondary schoolteachers, which is said to be at crisis levels and considerably more severe in the country’s education system.
The survey points out teacher absenteeism as a factor contributing to poor academic performance and is reported to be particularly rampant in Dar es Salaam region.
The UWEZO annual learning assessment study found that one in five teachers was not present when their school was being assessed.
In addition to teacher absenteeism, lack of school supplies has also been mentioned as a factor hindering children’s learning.
“These findings become even more worrying when considering that just because a teacher is present at his or her workplace does not always imply that he or she is teaching all (or any) of the scheduled classes,” the study report says.
The report adds: “With the high rate of teacher absenteeism, it is difficult for children to learn consistently and to build on their skills throughout the school year”.
Furthermore, while studies on teacher absenteeism typically only record teachers’ physical presence at schools, the report points out that it is essential to also assess whether they actually teach (all of) their scheduled classes.
As the 2010 ministry report points out, teacher absenteeism can be caused by various reasons, including illness, teachers attending vocational training or academic postgraduate classes, or teachers being away on other public duties.
While the possible causes for teachers’ absence might be diverse, the effects on the students' learning are unquestionably and invariably disastrous.
The median age of schoolchildren interviewed in the study was 12 years and about two-thirds of the students attended primary schools.
The study shows that 90.4 per cent of the students received their education at a government-run institution and only 8.4 per cent attended private schools.
The findings show that mere physical presence of teachers does not always guarantee that they will fulfill all of their duties as educators.
Despite being present at school, one in ten teachers did not teach all of the scheduled classes.
Out of the 209 schoolchildren in public primary schools who were interviewed for the study, one in nine was not taught by their class teacher for a day.