Tanzanian Female Students’ Perspectives on the Relevance of Secondary Education
Secondary education is a critical concern and focus of policy interest in Tanzania as well as throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The rapid expansion and deteriorating quality of the secondary education sector has raised questions regarding the social and personal relevance of the existing system. This study explores and presents the voices and perspectives of female students concerning critical policy issues in the development of secondary education in Tanzania. The study analyses how students’ perspectives can complement and contrast with both the national and international policy approach to the development of secondary education. Using a critical approach, the study focuses on the experiences, plans and aspirations of female students, who are an underrepresented and under-performing group in post-primary education. The study analyses the social and cultural contexts that influence the advancement of girls and young women and which motivate them to pursue further education. The conceptual framework is drawn from theories on future orientation and on the transition to adulthood. Student voice research is applied and explored as a strategy to present the students’ perspectives so that they could be included in policy dialogue from which they have previously been excluded. The personal relevance of education in the lives and future orientation of 100 Tanzanian female secondary students living in the city of Dar es Salaam was analysed using qualitative methods aiming at giving students voice. Data were collected through 1) empathy-based stories and 2) a semi-structured qualitative questionnaire focusing on the plans, experiences and future orientation of students enrolled in lower-secondary education. The realised transitions from lower-secondary to upper-secondary education were followed up through 3) individual interviews (n=7). Finally, 4) a policy text analysis was conducted to reflect the critical issues brought up by students against the documented policy articulations. The results of the study emphasise the importance of personal effort and learning strategies for advancement in education in students’ thinking. During secondary education, and particularly the transition from the lower- to upper-secondary level, the family is a critical enabling and constraining context for female students’ advancement. Peers, educated seniors and religious groups also provide significant support to students, with school-related factors playing only a marginal role in the students’ considerations. Secondary education is given both instrumental and intrinsic value by the students, who want to continue education beyond lower-secondary school in order to reach their personal and professional goals. Education is considered a key for the transition to adulthood and to gaining a good life. The study contributes to discussions on the relational nature of aspirations, future orientation and youth transitions. Experiences with a student-centred approach show how research can be used to voice female students’ perspectives on critical policy concerns. The study concludes that the students’ perspectives provide complementary and contesting views to development of Tanzanian secondary education. Further research utilising student-centred methodologies and student voice is encouraged to include students’ perspectives in the dialogue on the development of education in Tanzania and elsewhere.