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Literacy for self-reliance: A critical exploration of Nyerere’s legacy in Tanzanian education policies


The global movement to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda rests on strengthening international connections and cooperation. However, in recent years nationalism and protectionism have been on the rise in donor countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In this situation, Julius Nyerere’s education for self-reliance (ESR) philosophy, which aimed at achieving sustainable development using Tanzania’s own resources, has again gained traction among scholars and policymakers. Placing Tanzanian education policy development in the context of the international political economy, this article critically analyses key education policy documents produced by Tanzania and its development partners, with a particular focus on literacy. The authors not only examine the extent to which ESR has been included in current literacy policies, but also consider its relevance for literacy education. Their analyses show that, even though ESR is mentioned in literacy policies, the term self-reliance now has different connotations; literacy is understood as comprising students’ abilities in basic reading, writing and arithmetic; and current literacy initiatives are designed to prepare Tanzanians to find jobs in the global capital market rather than empower rural communities for sustainable development.


L’alphabétisation pour l’autonomie : un examen critique de l’héritage de Nyerere dans les politiques d’éducation tanzaniennes – Le mouvement mondial qui vise à atteindre les dix-sept Objectifs de développement durable (ODD) du Programme de développement durable à l’horizon 2030 de l’ONU repose sur le renforcement de la coopération et des liens internationaux. Toutefois, ces dernières années, le nationalisme et le protectionnisme ont gagné du terrain dans les pays donateurs comme les États-Unis et le Royaume-Uni. Dans un tel contexte, la philosophie de l’éducation pour l’autonomie préconisée par Julius Nyerere et qui visait à réaliser le développement durable en utilisant les ressources de la Tanzanie retrouve de l’intérêt auprès des universitaires et des décideurs. Cet article, qui place le développement de la politique tanzanienne de l’éducation dans l’optique de l’économie politique internationale pour procéder à une analyse critique des documents clés de politique de l’éducation produits par la Tanzanie et ses partenaires en développement, accorde un intérêt tout particulier à l’alphabétisation. Non seulement ses auteurs examinent la mesure dans laquelle l’éducation pour l’autonomie a été intégrée dans les politiques actuelles de l’alphabétisation, mais ils se penchent aussi sur sa pertinence pour l’alphabétisation. Leurs analyses montrent que même si les politiques d’alphabétisation font mention de l’éducation pour l’autonomie, le mot autonomie a d’autres connotations aujourd’hui; on considère que l’alphabétisation englobe les bases en lecture, en écriture et en arithmétique des apprenants; enfin, les projets d’alphabétisation actuels sont davantage conçus pour préparer les Tanzaniens à trouver du travail que pour autonomiser les communautés rurales dans l’optique du développement durable.

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Figure 1

Source: World Bank (2020a, p. 129)

Figure 2

Source: World Bank (2020b)


  1. 1.

    The Truman Doctrine refers to “the principle that the US should give support to countries or peoples threatened by Soviet forces or Communist insurrection. First expressed in 1947 by US President Truman in a speech to Congress seeking aid for Greece and Turkey, the doctrine was seen by the Communists as an open declaration of the Cold War” (OUP, n.d.).

  2. 2.

    The Kiswhahili word ujamaa means brotherhood in English (jamaa means family, relatives), and its philosophy is being aware of all members of a family or community. The meaning of the term has been extended to include socialism in a political context.

  3. 3.

    Structural adjustment policies are a set of economic policy reforms which developing countries had to implement as a condition for receiving loans from the World Bank and the IMF.

  4. 4.

    The Education for All (EFA) initiative, launched at the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien in 1990, and reconfirmed at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, strove to universalise access to education and promote equity (WEF 2000).

  5. 5.

    “In research terms”, reflexivity refers to “thoughtful, self-aware analysis of the intersubjective dynamics between the researcher and the researched. Reflexivity requires critical self-reflection of the ways in which researchers’ social background, assumptions, positioning and behaviour impact on the research process” (Finlay and Gough 2003, p. ix).

  6. 6.

    In a nutshell, thematic analysis is “a way of seeing” something that is “not … evident to others” (Boyatzis 1998, p. 3). It involves observation, finding a pattern and then interpreting that pattern (ibid., pp. 1–28).

  7. 7.

    The first ERP, which ran from 1986 to 1989, “included a broad range of policies aimed at liberalising internal and external trade, unifying the exchange rate, reviving exports, stimulating domestic saving, and restoring fiscal sustainability” (Bigsten and Danielsson 1999, p. 13).

  8. 8.

    The UN’s eight MDGs, in conjunction with the Education for All agenda (1990–2015), preceded the 17 SDGs of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. For more information, visit [accessed 9 January 2020].

  9. 9.

    The Kiswhahili word uwezo means capability in English.

  10. 10.

    Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, which “describe the country’s macroeconomic, structural and social policies and programs” (IMF 2016), are documents required by the IMF and World Bank for the purpose of granting loans.

  11. 11.

    The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) programme was launched in 2002. According to its own website, “GPE brings together developing countries, donors, international organizations, civil society, including youth and teacher organizations, the private sector and private foundations to pursue the shared objective of equitable, quality education for all (GPE n.d.).

  12. 12.

    The Literacy and Numeracy Education Support (LANES) programme was designed to improve the acquisition of the 3Rs among children in and out of school; especially marginalised children and those in hard-to-reach and hard-to-serve areas of Tanzania. The target age group was 5 to 11 years, with a consideration of 2- to 4-year-old children in day care centres, and 9- to 13-year-old children in non-formal education programmes. A Local Education Group (LEG) is a multi-stakeholder body led by a country’s Ministry of Education. Its purpose is to support education sector planning, policy development, implementation and monitoring through joint sector reviews.


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The authors would like to thank all local Tanzanian scholars who shared their views about Nyerere's legacy in Tanzania. Acknowledgments also go to anonymous reviewers and Maya Kiesselbach, International Review of Education, for her excellent work in editing the paper.

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Correspondence to Kapil Dev Regmi.

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Regmi, K.D., Andema, S. & Asselin, M. Literacy for self-reliance: A critical exploration of Nyerere’s legacy in Tanzanian education policies. Int Rev Educ (2020).

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  • Tanzania
  • self-reliance
  • Nyerere
  • literacy
  • community
  • sustainable development
  • education for self-reliance (ESR)
  • structural adjustment policies (SAPs)