The first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, was originally a teacher. He is often referred to as Mwalimu, which means teacher in Swahili. He made education an important part of his national plan. Self-reliance and ujamaa (familyhood) programs promoted literacy. Education programs were also used to raise the level of awareness of the importance of hygiene, agriculture, crafts and personal achievement. Recently, however, the literacy rate has decreased, because the government cannot invest as much money in education as it did in Nyerere's time.
Education is divided into primary and secondary systems, which together last for 13 years. Primary grades are called standards and secondary grades are called forms. Primary education, which lasts for seven years, is free and compulsory. Students must write a national examination at the end of primary schooling. Many children leave school at this point and go to work. 

Tanzanian primary and secondary school students wear uniforms to school. They must pay for these uniforms and for school supplies. The language of instruction in primary schools is Swahili; in secondary schools it is English.

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Tanzanian children are expected to be polite to their teachers. At the beginning of each day, when the teacher enters the classroom, the children stand up and greet the teacher respectfully.
Secondary education lasts for six years. There are few secondary schools in Tanzania and enrolment is limited to only 3% of students who have completed primary school. Students must pay fees to attend secondary school. Many students must live far away from their immediate family to attend school. There are two national examinations at the secondary level. Students write the first exam when they have finished four years of secondary school, in order to receive the Certificate of Secondary Education. Those who want to go on to university have two more years of schooling and take the second exam, which leads to the Advanced Certificate of Secondary Education. The system in Zanzibar is slightly different, but students also write the national exams.
Postsecondary education is offered at six universities. The National University of Dar es Salaam is the most well-known. The newest public university is the University of Zanzibar. Most university courses are taught in English. The government subsidizes the universities and the president appoints the heads of the universities. The school year runs from September to July.

 The Open University of Tanzania was established in 1995 for distance education. People who do not live near one of the universities can take courses by correspondence. There are also many vocational training centres for people who have not finished primary or secondary school.