Human Capital Development in Tanzania.

Carol Ndosi
7 min readMay 24, 2023

Tanzania is set to host the Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit, July 25–26, 2023 in Dar es Salaam. The overall theme of the Summit is linking investments in human capital to economic growth and harnessing the demographic dividend, by addressing learning poverty and the skills gap for youth and women.

Investment in Human Capital which entails enhancing the health, knowledge, skills, and capacities of a population, is a crucial driver of sustainable development and economic growth. In Tanzania, significant strides have been made in human capital investment over the past decades.

One major aspect of human capital investment is education. The Tanzanian government has made commendable strides in this sector, notably implementing free basic education since 2015. The policy has boosted school enrollment rates and made education more accessible to children from low-income families. However, while access to education has improved, the quality of education remains a significant issue.

Tanzania, like many developing countries, grapples with the prevalence of learning poverty. This problem constitutes a severe impediment to the country’s social and economic progress. To address this challenge, it’s essential first to understand its underlying causes and implications, followed by the exploration of viable solutions.

Learning Poverty: An In-depth Overview

Learning poverty, as defined by the World Bank, is the percentage of children who, by the age of 10, cannot read and understand a simple text. In Tanzania, this issue is pervasive, especially among youth and women, primarily due to structural issues resulting to inadequate access to quality education, socio-economic disparities, and entrenched gender-based discrimination.

Although the Tanzanian government has made commendable strides in promoting access to education by implementing free basic education in 2015, the issues go beyond mere access to education. The quality of education and the learning environment are pivotal elements that are yet to meet acceptable standards.

Schools, particularly those in rural areas, are characterized by high student-to-teacher ratios, inadequate learning resources, and poor infrastructural facilities. These conditions create an environment that is not conducive to learning, thereby hampering students’ progress and development. In many instances, teachers are not sufficiently trained, further undermining the quality of education.

Learning poverty in Tanzania is further complicated by socio-economic disparities and entrenched gender-based discrimination. Gender biases at home and within the community often impact girls’ education more adversely. Girls are often expected to help with household chores, limiting their time for study and school attendance. In certain regions, traditional beliefs and practices, such as early marriages and female genital mutilation, have also curtailed girls’ access to education.

Furthermore, children from low-income households are more prone to learning poverty. The socio-economic status of a family often determines their access to additional educational resources and private tutoring, which significantly influences the child’s academic performance. Such families may also lack the necessary infrastructure for learning, such as electricity for evening study and internet access for digital learning resources.

The impact of learning poverty is far-reaching. Without basic literacy and numeracy skills, children are less likely to succeed in higher education or vocational training, thereby diminishing their future employment prospects. This situation fuels a cycle of poverty, leaving individuals, families, and communities trapped with limited avenues for social and economic advancement.

Addressing learning poverty in Tanzania necessitates a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach which includes Enhancing the quality of basic education by improving teacher training, reducing student-to-teacher ratios, and improving school infrastructure as key starting points.

Simultaneously, policies should be geared towards promoting gender equity in education, ensuring that both girls and boys have the same opportunities and challenges they face affecting enrollment and drop out are both addressed.

In recent years, Tanzania has bared witness to concerted efforts to address challenges affecting girls’s access to education. The leakage in the pipeline is yet to be addressed notwithstanding setbacks such as the ongoing fight against Child Marriage Law and teenage pregnancies which continue to threaten the girlchild’s progress.As per data in the Basic education statistics in Tanzania (BEST) — numbers indicate a significant rise in school dropout by boys and even worse learning outcomes amongst them.

The ongoing education sector reforms through review of the Education Policy 2014(2023 edition) sound very promising in eliminating learning poverty in Tanzania with issues such as curriculum review with components such as ICT and 21st Century skills guiding the framework. The ministry also just got approval of it’s 2023/2024 budget where lot of this has also been given priority.

The Skills Gap: An Unseen Barrier

I have been working in the area of Skills Development since 2017, having written a number of articles and implemented several programs in the areas of entrepreneurial and employability skills under our organisation The Launchpad Tanzania .

The skills gap — the gap between the skills that employers and the labour market needs and the skills that job seekers possess. Youth unemployment in Tanzania is high, and women are disproportionately affected, with limited opportunities for skills development and vocational training specifically those relevant to their specific context.

The skills gap can be seen in two dimensions. First, there is a foundational skills gap, resulting from insufficient primary education, leading to youth and women lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills and this goes all the way to higher learning education where we continue to witness such a huge gap between the skills graduates possess and what is actually and realistically required.

Second, there’s a technical and vocational skills gap. The labor market requires specific skills, including digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and technical abilities related to different industries. Unfortunately, a lack of access to relevant education and training leaves many Tanzanians, particularly women and youth, unprepared for the job market. Socio-cultural norms that restrict women’s access to education and specific job sectors further exacerbate the problem.

It’s quite a pandora’s box considering we have what is called the Skills Development Levy imposed on businesses and organisations, but are yet to see tangible programs addressing this gap.

Tanzania is also guided by the National Skills Development Strategy which I have also mentioned in this article here but is yet to also reflect the current 21st Century needs when it comes to the future of work and what the 4th Industrial Revolution dictates.

Addressing the skills gap requires a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach:

1. Enhancing the Quality and Relevance of Education: The Tanzanian education system needs to be more responsive to the needs of the labor market. This means not only improving the quality of education but also ensuring that the skills taught align with the demands of employers. Greater emphasis should be placed on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and other skills critical for the 21st-century labor market. The recently launched HEET program supported by the World Bank Tanzania offers a promising future on this front.

2. Vocational Training and Apprenticeship Programs: Practical, hands-on vocational training and apprenticeship programs can equip young people and women with industry-relevant skills. Collaboration between educational institutions, businesses, and government agencies can create apprenticeship programs that provide practical work experience and training, thereby making graduates more employable. VETA has a couple of partnership programs with institutions and businesses on the areas of upskilling and apprenticeship which is massively helping fill this gap, however there is a need to do much more and forge a pipeline of support in human capital development through public- private, public- public and private- private partnerships.

3. Promoting Gender Equality: Socio-cultural norms that limit women’s access to education and certain job sectors need to be addressed. Policies should be implemented to promote gender equality in educational institutions and the workplace. This could involve community awareness programs, scholarships for girls, and laws ensuring equal employment opportunities for women.

4. Lifelong Learning Opportunities: In the rapidly evolving labor market, the ability to continuously learn and acquire new skills is crucial. Opportunities for lifelong learning, such as adult education programs, online courses, and professional development workshops, should be made more accessible and affordable.

Implications and Consequences

The combination of learning poverty and the skills gap creates a cycle of poverty and unemployment, affecting Tanzania’s overall development. Uneducated youth grow into adults without the requisite skills to contribute to or benefit from economic growth. Moreover, as women are disproportionately affected, these issues further reinforce gender inequality in the country.

In terms of gender equality, a crucial aspect of human capital investment, women in Tanzania face significant barriers. Socio-cultural norms often restrict women’s access to education and certain job sectors. Gender-based discrimination and violence remain significant issues that limit women’s potential and contribute to the under-utilization of their skills and capacities.

Feedback from most of our skills development programs often ask — NOW WHAT- after the training, sounding the alarm that as much as we invest in skills we need what they call a holistic approach in addressing this predicament. There needs to be deliberate efforts in creating more linkages and opportunities to access to finance and opportunties for economic advancement because whilst education and skills are imperative to human capital investment, it needs to go hand in hand with supportive environment including i.e policies for businesses to grow. Here I must also insist on locals being given the same ‘considerations’ as foreign investors as long as they are contributing to job creation and income generation for their surrounding communities.

There is hope. The Tanzanian government, along with international partners, is aware of these challenges facing human capital development and investment and has taken steps to address them. The World Bank’s Human Capital Project is one such initiative aimed at building human capital in Tanzania and other countries. The project works by generating data, knowledge, and awareness, and providing support for national strategies that enhance the health, education, and social protection of every child.

In conclusion, while Tanzania has made progress in investing in its human capital, considerable challenges persist. There is a need for more focused investment in the quality of education and healthcare, social protection, and gender equality. With targeted policies and strategic partnerships, Tanzania can harness the potential of its most valuable resource — its people.

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Carol Ndosi

🇹🇿 |Development Advocate|#GlobalGoalsTZ Champion|Feminist|MWF ‘16|Social & Biz Entrepreneur @MaMaendeleo @nyamachomafest @bongofesttz @thelaunchpadtz