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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 9. Access for all: Libraries and Distance Learning in Tanzania

by Alli Mcharazo

I would like to talk about information provision by public libraries for distance education in Tanzania. Let me give you the background first of all before I embark on the business of identifying specific issues. In 1993 the Open University of Tanzania was established. It is the first open university apart from the one which was established in the 1940s in South Africa. In 1994 it enrolled something like 700 students. Today it has more than 5000 students who are studying for BA, BA Education, B.Com, B.Com Education, LLB, BSc, BSc for Education, and Foundation courses.

Clearly there was a social demand and manpower demand for having such an institution. The people have been asking for this type of education for quite some time. As you are aware there are only 2 universities in Tanzania.

We in the information profession whenever something like this is being established are asking ourselves questions. What impact would it have to our practices, what are the issues involved when a country is embarking on establishing a distance education institution. We are aware of the existing universities and colleges that are suffering from problems of lack of provision of reading materials. It is very difficult for them to receive up-to-date reading materials and periodicals. It is even more difficult to receive the materials which have been published within the country. Now with all these problems of resourcing, etc., why should a country start a new university? I understand that distance education is not new in Tanzania or Africa, but in the form of the Open University it is very new. Our practices have been influenced by campus -based education systems. Public libraries have not prepared themselves to go hand-in-hand with this new emerging community, distance education students at university evel. What do we need to do? Surely we must firstly identify the issues which are surrounding distance education and public libraries. I went around interviewing students, administrators, the Minister of Education and Minister For Higher Education, from the Open University of Tanzania. I also spoke to our information providers - public libraries, regional public libraries, etc. This took me some three and a half years as I came across several difficulties, for example, weather conditions sometimes caused bridges to be impassable.

I have found that traditional methods of education and library provision in the developing world are to blame for the problems that are being faced by library users. We haven't changed since independence 30 years ago. Libraries are still found in the main cities. But the majority of the people, 80%, live in the rural areas. They don't have district libraries there, or village libraries. There are very few rural libraries. Most of the libraries that do exist are lacking reading materials. My findings were that not only libraries run by the Government lack reading materials but also libraries which are run by foreign organisations. They do not provide materials which reflect the needs of distance learning students or students in general. They're there to serve the needs of their communities, for example, the British Council Library in Dar-Es-Salaam is there to promote British culture. So these materials do not reflect the needs of these students.

We have other things which are associated with public libraries - selection policies. The Tanzanian library service which has a network of 20 libraries, has a selection policy which was established way back in 1960s which does not address the needs of new emerging communities. Then there is the issue of fees. Recently they have decided to charge fees to its members. I know this is a big issue, you had an opportunity in the west to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of charging for public libraries. This opportunity has not been given to the people of Tanzania. Not many distance learning students are using public libraries because they cannot afford to pay 3000 shillings, equivalent to £3. Some students cannot go to school because their fathers cannot pay the 3000 shillings a year school fees. So if a father cannot afford to pay this how can he afford to pay another 3000 to join a public library?

Distance education is a new development and most institutions which are supposed to provide support to distance education, like public libraries, documentation centres and other information units, are not aware of the needs of distance education students. This suggests that even staff provision cannot articulate clearly or cater for the needs of these new users. Therefore they cannot provide for the needs of these students. However public libraries are expected to support the needs of distance learning students. This has been stipulated by all theorists of distance education.

Before 1961 the few libraries that existed were used by Europeans and a few Asians, most of the libraries were located in major towns and cities deliberately, as they were strategic to the colonial administration.

After independence in 1961 Tanzania inherited the colonial environment and it took time to change and to build new infrastructures. Multi-party democracy was introduced in the early 1980s. Nyerere was committed to education, people and the development of the country and under him public libraries flourished, but they deteriorated rapidly after this time.

So who are the excluded?

Women are disadvantaged in Tanzania from primary school level upwards. They are expected to take care of the family, not use libraries.

Poor people are disadvantaged as they cannot afford to use the system

The rural based population is disadvantaged as public libraries are in the cities and tend to operate on the false notion that libraries are for academics only. These libraries depend greatly on organisations such as Book Aid International for resources, but these resources are in English, and Tanzanians speak Kiswahili. The World Bank sometimes even insists that its money is spent in the USA. It is difficult for libraries to purchase even materials published in Dar-Es-Salaam. This haphazard provision of materials does not consider the information needs of the communities of Tanzania.


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