Student Profile from Tanzania

As part of our follow-up from our visit to Tanzania, I’ve typed up the following profile of the school and students we worked with. Enjoy!

The Stanford University – Seeds of Empowerment Team worked with one pilot school – Nangwanda Secondary School, which is located in the town of Newala, in the Mtwara Region of southern Tanzania. This report provides an overview of Newala, Nangwanda Secondary School, and the students in Form 1 who comprised our student sample.

I.  The Mtwara Region of Tanzania


Tanzania is a country of roughly 45 million people, located in East Africa. Although Tanzania was approaching universal primary education in the 1980s, it actually witnessed a decline in primary enrollments in the 1990s, such that by 2000, only 60% of the relevant age cohort was enrolled in primary school (Wedgewood 2007). Over the past decade, Tanzania has increased primary enrollments significantly to the point that 97% of all Tanzanian students of the appropriate age are now in primary school, up from 73% in 2002 (UIS 2012). Tanzania’s youth (age 15-24) literacy rate is approximately 76% (UIS).

The gross national income (GNI) per capita was $530 in 2010, making Tanzania one of the poorest nations in the world. In 2011, the World Bank ranked Tanzania as 155 in the world out of 180 nations, based on its GNI per capita. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 88% of Tanzanians live on less than $2 a day.

The nationwide electrification rate in Tanzania increased from 7.5% in 2000 to 14% in 2009, and rural electrification is a governmental priority. Nonetheless, even in areas with access to electricity, long outages are very common (US Department of State 2010).

Mtwara Region

Located in the Southern Tanzanian province of Mtwara, Newala is located on a plateau roughly 2,000 feet above sea level. Due to the sandy soil and mountainous geography, travel in the region is very difficult and the primary source of income is agriculture. Children in Newala face many difficulties in attending school; although mandatory fees have been eliminated officially at the national level, local educational officials still charge families “contributions” and students who cannot pay are occasionally sent home. In addition, the textbook-to-student ratio can climb as high as 10-1. Without textbooks, students cannot study or learn required materials. Moreover, many children leave home to live on the streets, in which case they typically do not attend school at all.

Additionally, while the city of Newala does have access to electrical power, most families live in mud huts with little to no access to electricity.  The region’s limited infrastructure means that most educational technology interventions are impractical; however, mobile devices have penetrated the region.  Due to its limited educational resources but access to mobile technology, Newala provides an excellent region in which to test out the use of mobile devices for educational purposes, in under-developed regions.

II. Nangwanda Secondary School

 Nangwanda serves 600 students in Forms 1-6; Forms 1-4 are the equivalent of 9-12th grade, while Forms 5-6 are the equivalent of a pre-university program. Academically, Nangwanda is ranked among the poorest performing secondary schools in Tanzania. Out of 3,108 secondary schools in Tanzania, Nangwanda was ranked 2,774, putting it at the 89th percentile (i.e., only 11% of schools perform worse).

In 2011, 129 students took final examinations in Form 4 (the equivalent of high school exit exams). Of those, 94 failed while 35 passed, equaling only a 27.1% pass rate. Moreover, all of the students who did pass received a Division IV rating – which is the equivalent of a D average.[1] This means that none of the secondary school graduates from Nangwanda are eligible to continue on to Form 5 or Form 6, and none are eligible for university. Most will be tracked into post-secondary training programs such as elementary education or nursing.

III. Student Profile

The demographic profile of students at Nangwanda is representative of many of the issues that secondary schools in Tanzania face – students ages are wide ranging, and many suffer from the effects of poverty, including poor nutrition, long distances to school and a severe lack of educational resources at home.

In our pilot study, we worked with 139 students from Form 1, which is the equivalent of 9th graders. Form 1 is an important transition year for students, as students in primary school are educated entirely in Kiswahili, with English taught only a few hours a week as a foreign language. Starting in Form 1, and throughout the rest of their secondary school career, students are taught entirely in English. Their level of English is incredibly weak, and the vast majority of students does not understand the basics of verb conjugation, or tenses, and have never been taught important basic vocabulary. Instead, they are simply taught by memorization – and are thrown into learning very difficult and abstract subjects in English, without a proper basis in the English language.

The mean age of students in Form 1 was 14.4; however, ages within the class ranged from 12-18. Moreover, the vast majority of students do not know their actual birth date – many actually do not know how old they are. Their birthdates tend to be made up, and are often estimated to make students appear younger than they actually are.

In our sample, males and females were equally represented, with 71 males (51.1%) and 68 females (48.9%). However, it does appear that female students are slightly younger than male students. It is possible that families are less likely to register male students for school at younger ages, for a variety of reasons, including male children being more likely to work outside the home even at very young ages.

Nearly all students walked to school, although a few had access to bicycles and 3 lived in the on-campus hostel. Of those students who walked, many travelled long distances to reach Nangwanda. The majority of students took between 15-40 minutes to walk to school; however, it took some students as long as 90 minutes to reach school.

We asked students a variety of questions to understand what their home lives and educational resources were. Overall, we find that nutrition in the region is very poor. In fact, half of the students surveyed report being hungry in school on a daily basis, while only 8% say that they are never hungry – this is most likely because eating breakfast is not common in this part of Tanzania, and students are expected to study until about 2 pm.

Additionally, the predominant food is a form of corn-meal porridge known as ugali, which is typically made of corn or kasava (a vegetable similar to a potato). Rice, fruit and meat are quite rare. A typical meal in Newala is depicted below. This portion of ugali and kasava is expected to serve anywhere between 5-10 individuals.

In our sample, the plurality of students (44.6%) eats rice only once or more a week – not on a daily basis. Fruit is slightly more common, as 41% of students eat a fruit on a daily basis – fruits such as papaya, bananas and melons are common in the region. Nonetheless, the majority of students do not eat fruit on a daily basis, and roughly 44% say they only eat fruit on a weekly basis (a few times a week). Eating meat is quite rare and the plurality of students eats it only a few times a month (42.5%).

As a result of poor nutrition, health concerns are quite common and may interfere with students’ ability to concentrate in school.

In addition, we asked about students’ home environments. We found that in our sample, about 40% of students had access to electricity in their homes. This percentage is much higher than the average for Tanzania as a whole – we believe that access to electricity is higher because many students live in Newala, which is a semi-urban town. Moreover, access to electricity has expanded rapidly in the past three years in the area, as a French company has recently built a natural gas power plant in Mtwara that serves many of the villages in our sample. Of those who do have electricity, the majority of students also have televisions. Overall, in our sample, roughly a third of all students had televisions. We believe that access to English-language programs on television may be a substantial aid to Form 1 students in learning English.

About half of all students attended English Tuition – which is a relatively inexpensive after school program for primary school students. Families pay primary school English teachers for additional instruction in English – however, the quality of teaching remains incredibly low in English Tuition; it is often used simply to occupy students in the afternoons. Only 10% of our sample has ever had actual English tutoring, and of those, we presume that nearly all received that tutoring from a family friend or relative, as there is no private for-profit tutoring in Newala.

Approximately 30% of the sample has repeated a grade at some point in elementary school, and another 30% has worked as a day laborer to help pay for their uniform and school supplies. Additionally, we find that many students spent upward of 5 hours a day helping their families with chores, including gathering water, wood for fuel, cooking, and caring for relatives, and nearly all students spent at least 1 hour a day doing chores.

Interestingly, although nearly none of our students have access to a computer or the Internet – a very large percentage (88%) have at least one family member (including parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles) who have a mobile phone. This finding supports our desire to use mobile phones as educational tools – as mobiles are something that many students have at least some familiarity with. This finding is on par with other studies, which project that Tanzania and Kenya will have 100% mobile penetration by 2013 (Business Monitor International, 2009).


Business Monitor International. 2009. “East and Southern Africa Telecommunications Report Q1 2009”.  Available at:

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). “United Republic of Tanzania.” Available at:

US Department of State. 2010. “Doing Business in Tanzania:  2011 Country Commercial Guide for U.S. Companies.” Available at:

Wedgwood, R. 2007. “Education and poverty reduction in Tanzania.” International Journal of Educational Development 27(4): 383-396.

[1] Tanzania ranks all passing students by how many mistakes they make on their final exams, and classifies them into a Division based on their overall performance in all classes. Rankings range from Division I to Division IV. Division I is the highest (i.e., the equivalent of an A GPA), while Division IV is the worst (i.e., a D ranking). Students who fail the exam do not receive a Division ranking.

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