Due to my research obligations as a University of Oxford Department of Education affiliate, I have had to spend sometime this week at the University of Dar-es-Salaam main campus. This is the top university in Tanzania and one of the best, I hear, in Africa. The university’s significant number of high top successful alumni all over Africa is a powerful testimony to its credibility. The university has produced best lawyers in Africa, CEOs of successful companies, and high-top politicians. The current Tanzanian president is the university’s alumnus. It’s very likely that the next one will also have UDSM as his/her alma mater. In addition, the university is home to many of the best brains in the country.
However, in many ways, my observation at the University did not reflect the best of all or rather met my expectations based on the above. In this brief entry, I will only talk about the library- ‘maktaba’.
For the sake of understanding the context: I had to use the library because there was a power cut in the building where I was working. My friend, a lecturer in Economics, has been very generous to let me use his office desk whenever I am in the campus. But there was a power cut on Monday and then he advised me to work from the library because it has a working generator. I was very shocked and saddened that the University faculty block can go without power the whole day. This is not acceptable in the 21st century.
I gladly went to the library. I never mind working from the library. I did that often during my PhD research mainly for the sake of avoiding my office. My first impression after stepping to the ‘maktaba’ reception was another shock. Nothing is electronic. The security is physical. Anyone who enters the library has to leave his/her bag outside. I had to leave my bag and carried my laptop and wires with my hand. I couldn’t take anything else from my bag, which is always full of various staff prepared to facilitate my smooth working concentration. Students are forced to carry their laptops, book, papers, and pens with their hands. This gives them a limit to what they can carry inside hence distorting their concentration. For example, it is difficult for students to carry a snacks, drinks etc inside hence students can hardly stay for more than 3 hours without having to go out of the library. I did not see any snack/drink shops or vending machine inside the library. Even more challenging, the studying desks and chairs are bad and old. Uncomfortable. The architecture and working place is de-motivating. They are old and unfriendly. There is no library Wi-Fi and students depend on their own mobile Internet devices. Only a few students can afford those. In summary, it’s a very old fashioned library. My overall reaction was sadness.
I could not stop thinking of how universities are spending enormous resources in continuous improvement of their libraries. The improvements are meant to match with the constant changing world. To cut the long story short, I ask you (the reader) to read Claire Shaw’s article http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/aug/06/university-libraries-learning-shapes-design?CMP=twt_gu
I am aware and grateful that the Chinese are investing on a huge library in the university, however that should not be an excuse for leaving the ‘Maktaba’ as it is now. The university must keep up with the changes in the learning environment if it wants to keep producing smart graduates who can compete in the world. We need to remember that most of the students who go to UDSM are the best brains in the country and so we need to facilitate their learning environment so that they can utilize their potential.
Who can do that? ….You and I…!!! How?? Let’s think about that together…
Thanks for putting this nice but disheartening piece. I couldn’t agree more with you.
While at UDSM back in 2012, two issues caught my attention, the state of the elevator for the Department of Political Science and Public Administration building as well as stinking toilets (students + academic staff). I was shocked to be informed that the elevator had not been working for more than six months. My host said a spare part was ordered from Germany and it would take 6 more months to arrive. Not only I couldn’t buy his story, but was ashamed that no one seemed to care and everyone acted as if things were in order. Probably everyone was enjoying a compulsory climbing excise.
The toilets – coupled by poor water supply and bad manners on toilet use, most of the university toilets (if not all) were in devastating situation. It is not surprising to find yourself stinking for several hours after using one of the toilets (given you have guts to use them). Similar to the problem of the elevator, no body seems to be bothered by the stinking and very often non-functioning toilets. It is hard to tell a university toilet from that of a local market in Mbagala or Manzese.
I am not an expert in solving Tanzanian problems, however, I feel that change of attitude on the way we define problems (answering the question of ‘what is a problem?’) can be a very big step towards changing the current state of affairs.
Thanks for the comment. Indeed we need to change attitude…and know that sometimes only a small decision can make a difference…lack of resources is not always the case!
I am surprised you only write about the bad chairs and students not being able to take snacks into the library and leave out the most important thing which is the actual intellectual materials found in the library. If you look closely students do not go to the library for the materials available but rather carry their own materials and read them in the library, this should tell you that something is really wrong.
Before improving the chairs and security systems, I suggest we start with upgrading the materials in the library and put in place a better way for students to search for these materials.
Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t comment on the academic materials because I didn’t look at any, so I wouldn’t know much about it to comment.
Thank you AIkande for raising this issue. I will print this piece and share it with powers that be. Sometimes a problem can be taken more seriously when it said by an ‘outsider’.
Thanks Dr. Kitila. I am grateful that you are going to push for actions…we need change! Wondering if I can be of any other help??
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