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Grieving a school change

Elliot changed nursery schools recently. At first we were motivated pragmatically: because of our religious and cultural background, we would be unlikely to get him into the primary school we wanted (read: affordable without being an hour away from home) unless he was already in the nursery school. But then, when we floated the idea with him, he was adamant that he wanted to change schools, and he has been much happier in the new environment.

He’s gone from a local Tanzanian nursery school to an international school. He’s traded rote learning for exploration. The 3Rs are now set in the context of creativity, social skills, and community. Corporal punishment has been replaced with gentler forms of discipline. Next to zero communication with parents has been swapped for a daily diary, newsletters, assemblies, and inviting parental involvement.


First day, with his teachers

And yet, I have grieved this change.

I’m disappointed that his opportunities to learn Swahili are greatly decreased. Moving to Dar from Dodoma began that process; English is more common here, and we were unable to find a Swahili nursery school for him. In Dar if you’re middle class enough to send your kid to nursery school, you also want it to be in English. His first school here was technically in English but in reality lots of Swahili was used. This new school has Swahili as a playground language and a Swahili subject, but the level of immersion is obviously less. In a sense, this is not just about language, but about the life we left behind in Dodoma, and adjusting to a new life and culture here in Dar.

I feel uncomfortable that this new school is far beyond the means of our Tanzanian colleagues. Our home and lifestyle is already different to theirs, and this is yet another departure. I’m confronted with my wealth and privilege, and that’s not comfortable for me. I remind myself that this is the bottom international school option (the principal called it the ‘economy’ IB), that half the students are Tanzanian (the other half Tanzanian-Indian, and there are one or two Chinese and Japanese families – Elliot is the only white kid), and that we will go back to Australia one day and Elliot’s education needs to prepare him for that at least somewhat. But our friends freely ask questions like, ‘how much are the school fees?’ and though they’re pretty tiny by expat standards, they’re still well above what one of our Tanzanian colleagues could ever hope to pay for their children.

I’m stressed at the idea of our fundraising increasing to pay for the school fees. Every month we get our reports on how our fundraising is going; it hangs over us like a cloud. We’re super thankful for the many who partner with us financially, but any increase means once again appealing for money. Talking about money is awkward at the best of times for Australians, so we have worked hard to de-mystify how CMS processes work, and to show the value in them, and why what we’re doing is worth contributing to. But still it weighs on us, and all the more because of the contrast with the lives of our Tanzanian colleagues.

There’s no question that the move to this new school is best for Elliot, so we have done it with joy. But there are losses for our family as well, and so I grieve them, because they need to be acknowledged so that they can be put to rest.

Categories: Cross-cultural parenting Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

3 replies

  1. Sounds like a hard but good change. I like your point about ‘acknowledgement as letting go’ rather than ‘acknowledgement as holding on’.

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