School Segregation: Bringing it Home in Tanzania
By Tony Waters, Sociology
Last year, as a Fulbright scholar in Tanzania, I attended U.S. Embassy
programs focused on the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education.
These programs are part of the Fulbright commitment to education
and international exchange and understanding. In the Brown vs. Board
of Education ruling, the evidence supporting the U.S. Supreme Court
decision was reviewed: white schools had more textbooks than black
schools, classes were smaller, the buildings were better, and teacher
salaries were higher. The Supreme Court ruling stated that the most
insidious consequences of discrimination are the clear “psychological”
messages that black students receive. Using sociological data, the
court concluded that separation itself had negative consequences
for how black students viewed their future as citizens.
experience in Tanzania, the second poorest country in the world,
brought home, literally, the truth of the Brown decision. Although
the segregation is based on class and economic differences, and
not strictly race, it is imbedded in the Tanzanian educational system.
I taught in the public system, and my children attended the international
school that serves the wealthier parts of Tanzania (my grant included
tuition for my children at the International School of Tanganyika).
IST serves Tanzania’s small Indian community, the diplomatic
community, and a very few Tanzanians of African descent. Tuition
ranges from about $6,000 per year for kindergarten to $13,000 annually
for the upper grades. Classes are small, typically less than 20
per teacher. Teachers are paid Western salaries and trained in the
latest techniques of the International Baccalaureate program. There
are excellent programs in music, art, social work, and sports. There
are also numerous computer stations. The buildings are comfortable
and air-conditioned. Graduates go to elite universities throughout
My Fulbright was not at IST, but at the University of Dar Es Salaam
(UDSM), which is where 8,000 of Tanzania’s best students study.
My students were the hardest working I have ever had; I have a fantasy
that 10 of them would magically appear in my classes at Chico, where
they would be role models. The UDSM library is full on weekends,
holidays, and evenings. Students do not cut classes around Labor
Day, Halloween, or St. Patrick’s Day, and they attend class
between Christmas and New Years. Papers are handed in on time. If
you were on campus late at night, you could see students studying
under mangrove trees.
while UDSM students were hardworking, and the faculty excellent,
of the 800 students I had, none were from the wealthy Asian/Indian
community that sent their children to IST. UDSM’s library
collection is old, and few purchases are made of current literature.
The library is so well used because it is the only place there are
UDSM students have little computer access, and classes are enormous;
I taught a 420-student statistics class without using a spreadsheet
program like Excel. I did not assign problem sets because even though
I graded more student work than ever, I could not keep up. Much
class time at UDSM is spent communicating material via a piece of
chalk and blackboard, rather than on handouts, overheads, or online.
At night, in the dormitories, study groups are conducted in which
the few texts available are read outloud so that as many students
as possible benefit. As for salaries, a full professor at UDSM is
paid about a third of what a teacher at IST is paid and about a
fifthof what a beginning assistant professor in the United States
UDSM graduates have employment problems after graduation. The
few middle management jobs in Tanzania’s small private sector
are taken by students returning to Tanzania with a foreign education.
It will be pointed out correctly that the foreign educated are better
qualified because they have computer skills, writing skills, English
facility, and a familiarity with current literature. No matter how
many times I reassured UDSM students that they have better study
habits than my American students (including the two IST students
I had at home), the conditions sent a different message. They said
that wealthy IST students are better and more skilled, and the implication
is that the foreign educated are given preference in hiring.
But there is another side of discrimination that I saw as a parent
of two privileged IST students, which the Brown decision perhaps
missed. At IST parent meetings, I was occasionally asked about the
quality of education at UDSM. In part, this was simple curiosity
about a place few IST parents even visited. But it was also a loaded
question; the presumption was that UDSM is not very good—certainly
not a place I would send my own children. After all, IST regularly
has recruiters from elite foreign universities.
And I wonder, would I encourage my own son or daughter to attend
UDSM, knowing that the degree is devalued, classes too large, books
scarce, and too much lecture time spent drawing graphs? This brings
up the point of this essay, at least for me as a parent of privileged
children. If the Supreme Court is correct about segregation being
psychologically damaging to subordinated children, what effects
does privilege have for recipients of favored treatment, including
my own children?