by Jyri Mäkelä

The world faces enormous challenges in the coming decades. World population is currently at 7.2 billion and has been projected to reach its peak of 9 billion by the end of this century. However, given the newest available data, it is more likely that world population will rise to 12 billion, and it is unlikely to stabilize during this century. Population rise affects the whole world, but most of the growth will come from Africa. For example Tanzania, located in East Africa, now has a population of around 50 million and according to the United Nations it could be as high as 395 million by the year 2100.

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s most populous city, population has grown from 1.9 to 4.4 million in just ten years and has recently claimed the title of largest city in East Africa, replacing Nairobi. Such a dramatic increase in population growth puts even more pressure on provision of basic needs such as education, livelihood, and housing. Under the circumstances, Dar es Salaam and Tanzania are now facing a youth unemployment crisis because annually 900,000 new job seekers enter the job market and only 50,000 to 60,000 formal jobs are created. With the projected population increase, the situation will worsen as every year more job seekers enter the market.

Practical ways to improve youth employment are limited, but data from the Integrated Labour Force Report show that the unemployment rate decreases with education. In Dar es Salaam in 2006, the unemployment rate for persons over 15 years of age who never attended to school was 38.1%, while for those who attended secondary school or above, it was 26.6%. Education is thus one way for young persons to improve their chances in the job market.

A preschool in Tandale. © Jyri Mäkelä.

Unemployment has a big influence on young people’s lives, and one of the most affected areas is the ward of Tandale. There, roughly 70% of the population lives on less than one dollar per day and the area´s schooling system is not adequate to meet the needs of young people. Fortunately there are also positive stories and in 2013 I had the opportunity to film a documentary about one of them. The aim of the documentary was to provide new perspectives on Tanzania’s schooling system at the grassroots level and tell the story of a preschool which differs from most other preschools in the same area. This school was opened just a few months before the documentary was made and it was founded by a local woman I will call Rehema. At the time of the documentary, the school had 26 students and new students started on regularbasis. The school now has over 40 regular students and those who graduated last year from the preschool can already read in Kiswahili, Tanzania’s national language.

Rehema's class. © Jyri Mäkelä.

The children’s preschool day starts with a small crowd at the door. Dozens of kids take off their shoes at the same time. They are all heading for the first lesson. Soon everyone has found their seats and Rehema starts to teach. The weekly calendar includes English, mathematics, physical exercise, hygiene, drawing, song, Swahili and sport and games. Besides traditional subjects, Rehema also wants to teach life skills to the children, for example how to behave and how to take care of themselves in daily tasks. Those are the skills that children do not necessarily learn in impoverished homes from stressed and overworked parents. After morning classes, lunch time begins. First a lunch lady arrives with the food, but before anyone can start to eat, everyone washes their hands. For lunch the children eat porridge, sambusas and snacks. Everyone is enjoying the food, for some of them this might be the only hot cooked meal of the day.

Lunch time. © Jyri Mäkelä.

Rehema´s school gives quality education to children, but good education is not a certainty in all Tanzanian schools and in many cases, schools fail to deliver necessary skills. With the current unemployment crisis in Tanzania, quality of education is now discussed more openly, but as Ruth Wedgwood tells us in her article in the International Journal of Educational Development in 2007, in recent years the quality of education has decreased in Tanzania. Compared to most preschools in the area, Rehema’s school is different. As a service to her community, Rehema takes in for free five children whose parents cannot pay the modest preschool fees. From the beginning, her goal was to give good education and better opportunities to children who are living in this chronically poor area, and so far she appears to have succeeded. The preschool has been open less than two years and it has expanded to include another site nearby and the second group of children has graduated to the first grade of primary school.  

Learning the alphabet. © Jyri Mäkelä.

Upon entering primary school, these children already knew how to read and write, giving them a huge advantage over other children in their area and even in Dar es Salaam at large. With luck, this early advantage may translate into later opportunities in the job market. At least I am certain that because of Rehema’s preschool, these children and their parents are welcoming the future with greater hope than before.