A traditional secondary school classroom in Tanzania is silent. Students sit in rows of desks all facing the front of the room where the teacher lectures or a student scrawls definitions across the blackboard. Rarely do the students speak, and when they do, it is to answer a question posed by the teacher. Almost every classroom in Tanzania looks like this, where students’ primary goals are to memorize information and to perform well on the national exams.
Hidden amongst sugarcane fields outside the city of Moshi sits Mtakuja Secondary School, where 62 Form I (equivalent to US 9th grade) students challenge these norms. Instead of rote memorization, they explore topics that interest them. They use crowd-sourced resources offering multiple perspectives rather than usually outdated textbooks. In addition to answering the teacher’s questions, they ask their own questions, collaborate with peers to discover insights, and lead classroom discussions on their own.
Mtakuja’s Form I is the first class in the world to fully adopt the NGL framework as their main source of curriculum. During the summer of 2016, a team of Tanzanian quest designers created 286 quests that cover the topics and standards from the nine required Form I subjects – English, Swahili, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, History, Geography and Civics. Six Mtakuja teachers trained as mentors on the NGL methodology and now sacrifice their usual positions at the front of the classroom to spend class time checking in with individuals and groups of learners. Mentors help (or challenge) learners to find information, rather than instructing them by dispensing information.
Only four months into the school year and the effects of this new approach to learning are already visible. In April, the learners took a standardized midterm examination that is given to Mtakuja Form I learners at the same time each year. This year, 79% of Form I learners scored in the two highest quintile divisions, a 41% increase from the previous year and no students had an aggregated fail score. However, the most important accomplishments transcend academics. Mentors say that these learners are more confident, speak better English and ask far more questions than students they have worked with in previous years. Older students at Mtakuja say Form I learners are always trying to debate with them, challenge them to speak English, and encourage them to engage their teachers more. When the NGL Platform team traveled to Mtakuja, Form I learners excitedly explained to us what they were learning, a stark contrast to the students across both the campus and the country quietly copying definitions into their notebooks.
We’re excited to watch the Form I learners grow and to see what they can accomplish by the end of their secondary education. We also cannot wait to see NGL expand into the additional three grades and into other schools across Tanzania and the world, allowing students to guide their own education both in the classroom and in the rest of their lives.