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Tanzanian universities: 1960s-70s

Part 3/6 in a series on the history of Tanzanian universities

It’s often said that the key to understanding the last 50 years of Tanzanian history is the legacy of Julius Nyerere. This is also a useful lens for understanding the educational philosophy and development of Tanzanian universities.

Julius Nyerere is often referred to as the father of Tanzania. Before Nyerere, education in Tanzania had been a British curriculum revolving around rote learning and corporal punishment, and mostly restricted to the social elite. However, Nyerere was an anti-colonialist: he wanted to nurture Tanzanian identity and especially Tanzanian self-reliance.

Describing himself as a teacher at heart, Nyerere saw education as the means to achieve this, by imparting critical thinking, self-confidence and a sense of social responsibility. Where education had been primarily skills-based, he moved towards an education of the mind and heart and introduced the humanities (the arts) as a vital component of education. Nyerere went about:

  • Nationalising the primary school system;
  • Instituting a Tanzanian curriculum;
  • Making Kiswahili the language of primary schools (with plans to take this to the upper levels of education as well);
  • Democratising the running of schools so that students and teachers worked together on how their school was run;
  • Encouraging student involvement in their local community;
  • Establishing the University of Dar es Salaam.

There were a number of great educational successes. In 1974, 90% of Tanzania’s children aged 7-13 were in primary school. The 2 engineers and 12 doctors of 1962 became hundreds of engineers and doctors during Nyerere’s time.

Not everyone liked Nyerere. The social elite sent their children to the expensive private schools and then overseas for university. Schools set up by foreign missionaries were often nationalised, leading to a loss of property.

However, Nyerere largely succeeded in creating a national Tanzanian identity. He was a socialist and pursued ujamaa, displacing 10 million Tanzanians to work in collectives. That act in itself has been criticised but it did put the emphasis on Tanzanian rather than tribal identity.

Economically, Nyerere’s socialist policies were a pretty dismal failure, meaning that resources were not available to fully implement his education plan. When the World Bank declared Tanzania an ‘underdeveloped country’ in 1980, there was a huge loss of confidence among its people: schooling dropped to just 59% and stayed that way until 2001. It’s no surprise that so little happened with universities during that period!

Stay tuned for the 2000s…

Categories: Tanzania Uncategorized Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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