Tanzanian schools teach unjoined letters in Standard 1 followed by continuous cursive writing from Standard 2. To this end, the Tanzania Institute of Education produces free handwriting ebooks in English and Kiswahili.
The Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) is the main body responsible for curriculum development and monitoring in Tanzania. They train teachers and design pedagogical and curricular support materials through its Pre-primary and Primary Education Department.
The education system is loosely modelled after the British structure, and consists of two pre-primary levels, seven primary ones (Standard 1 to 7), and six secondary levels that are divided into Ordinary and Advanced stages. Primary school education is compulsory, and according to UNICEF, most children abandon school after Standard 7.
The teaching medium in Tanzanian schools can be English, Kiswahili, or a combination of both. Private schools often adopt a bilingual approach or predominantly use English, and most public schools deliver instruction in Kiswahili. Bilingual education offers the advantage of preparing children for secondary school, which is largely taught in English.
While public education is free, students must still purchase uniforms, books and other supplies, and that can prove a burden for low income households. Additionally, access to libraries is limited in rural areas. This shortfall led the TIE to launch free online library services, which provide access to educational materials and primers.
The primary school curriculum, published by the Wizara ya Elimu, Sayansi na Teknolojia, or Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and the TIE, was last updated in 2015. The first section, centered on the first two years of primary education (Standards 1 and 2) focuses on developing competencies in reading, writing and arithmetic. The TIE also publishes a syllabus that provides specific guidelines for the implementation of the curriculum. The syllabus states that students should learn print style letters first followed by cursive writing, but no models or samples are shown.
In practice, Standard 1 students learn an almost upright precursive and progress to a fully-joined cursive from Standard 2 onwards. The primers available through the free online library services supply detailed samples and practice materials that are used in classrooms.
The publishing pendulum
The landscape of educational book publishing in Tanzania has witnessed a pendulum-like shift between public and private management. Following independence in 1961, the government held a monopoly on textbook production for many years. However by 1991, it became evident that textbooks were not being adequately supplied, leading to the implementation of the National Textbook Provision Policy. This policy established five companies to handle the production of textbooks and learning materials for primary and secondary schools. Very slowly, textbook supply transitioned to a regulated but fully private endeavour. However, the market-run textbook policy was plagued by issues ranging from authorship to distribution.
In 2010, the Wizara set up a selection process to choose two textbooks per subject for primary schools, as a compromise between single and multiple textbook systems. Unfortunately, the approved textbooks were of subpar quality, in part because minimum physical production standards were not a condition for approval. Additionally, there were piracy issues and a severe shortage of textbooks in public schools.
Writing Standard 1 Pupil’s Book, showing print style letters
In 2014, the government abandoned the private textbook provision policy and shifted towards full state control once again. The TIE was entrusted with the responsibility of both production and supply. Notably, this era of state-managed educational materials saw the emergence of online platforms like their free online library services which, in combination mobile phone proliferation, further equal access opportunities for all Tanzanian children. The TIE publishes books for handwriting instruction for Standards 1 and 2 in English and Kiswahili.
For English, their two-book series is called Writing Standard, Pupil’s Book. The first book starts with pre-writing exercises and gradually introduces unjoined writing in a pre-cursive style; and the second focuses chiefly on cursive handwriting and presents a fully connected and very slanted cursive style.
Writing Standard 2 Pupil’s Book, showing print and cursive style letters
Currently, the TIE produces one handwriting book for Kiswahili, and a second one has been announced. A Kiswahili teacher’s guide, titled Kuandika, Kiongozi cha Mwalimu, presents a single handwriting model for instruction. The style of letters is radically different from those seen in the English cursive book for Standard 2. They are upright, round in appearance and have stroke contrast. It appears that they may have been created by manually joining the letters of a typeface that featured small exit strokes.
Samples of cursive writing from Kiswahili teacher’s guide, Kuandika, Kiongozi cha Mwalimu.