This film is held by the BFI (ID: 120518).


A typical day at a Government Primary School in Tanganyika.

The film opens with a shot of a notice board stating "Government Primary School". The boys of the school are roused at 6.30 a.m. by a bugle. The boys get up, wash, sweep out the huts and make their beds. There is a session of physical exercises followed by breakfast. After an inspection the boys go into their classrooms for lessons until 12 o'clock. In the afternoon the seniors do practical work - clearing the fields, carpentry, making clothes, building and hoeing. The school also has a band. In the evening the boys pursue their hobbies - kite-making, flying, signalling, making model boats and aeroplanes. The film concludes with shots of evening roll-call.



In a letter dated 17 March 1937, Major R.D. Furse, the director of Colonial Service Recruitment, explained that he had received a phone call from ‘Mr R.H. Cutler, Superintendent of Education, Tanganyika Territory, who has been making the educational films with Mr G.T. Wheeler’. Cutler had just arrived on leave for six months, and having completed the editing of the films with Wheeler in Southampton in April, arranged a private screening of both At School in Tanganyika as well as A Day in the Life of a Msukuma called Kinga Mkono, at the BFI on 3 May 1937 (‘Educational Films’, CO323/1421/13).

The screening was attended by representatives of the Colonial Office as well as Mr Wayley and Mr Lindrum of the BFI. Wayley ‘was sure they [BFI] would be glad to pay Mr Cutler for a copy of the films as he thought they would be of value’ (‘Educational Films’, CO323/1421/13). Both of the films – listed in Sight and Sound as A Day in the Life of an African Native and A Day in the Life of a Tanganyika Schoolboy – were subsequently distributed by the British Film Institute and available to hire from the loan section of the National Film Library from 1937 (Sight and Sound, Autumn 1937, 167).

Monthly Film Bulletin, in its review of At School in Tanganyika in September 1941, stated that ‘a good impression is given of what can be done and is being done in Tanganyika’ and argued that the film would ‘make an interesting comparison with films of schools, both for boys and girls, in Rhodesia’. The review further suggested that the film would be suitable ‘for those interested in native education, especially in Africa’ and also for ‘children in this country in an “out of school” show’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1941, 126).

Ralph Cutler was an Education officer working for the Tanganyikan Education Department, but he may also have served more specifically as the headmaster of the Central African School at Mwanza. Geoffrey Latham and Leslie Notcutt, in their account of the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment (BEKE), explained that they stayed at the school ‘as the guests of the headmaster, Mr Cutler, and his wife’. Latham and Notcutt arranged a screening for the school on Christmas Day, noting that ‘Cutler, who is quite an expert in electrical engineering and who took a great interest in our work, helped Woodall to install the apparatus at the cinema’ (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 89). After completing work on the two films, Cutler signed up for a fourteen-day course through the BFI at the Institute of Education in order to ‘learn the technique of producing educational films’. Cutler hoped to develop an exchange of films, swapping his pictures of African life with educational films that may be shown in African schools (‘Educational Films’, CO323/1421/13).

At the beginning of 1937, the Commission on Higher Education in East Africa visited schools and institutions throughout Uganda, Tanganyika and Kenya, and emphasised the importance of adapting education to the needs of the local community. The subsequent report noted that in Tanganyika, ‘the Native Administrations (the old tribal chiefs adapted to modern conditions) run successful primary schools’, but drew attention to the ‘backwardness’ of women’s education (The Times, 21 September 1937, 13).



As a film made by a government education officer, At School in Tanganyika promotes the work of the government’s education department through its representation of a local school. Opening with clear establishing shots – a sign saying ‘Government Primary School’ and a clock showing 6.30 – the film’s narrative follows a typical day at this school. What is of most significance though is how this representation of a local school aligns itself with British conventions. 

The school itself seemingly follows a British model, while the hobbies undertaken by the boys – kite-flying, signalling, building a model aeroplane – are common among their British contemporaries. The British influence is further evident as European men appear on occasion – for example when a local boy is laying cement on a wall and during band practice – to supervise the African students. This link is positively emphasised by the inter-titles, which further encourage the audience to view this local school in relation to those at home. The intertitles structure the school day in British terms – ‘P.T’, ‘Break’, ‘Band Practice’, ‘Roll Call’ – and use colloquial British language like ‘show a leg’ when addressing the African boys as they wake up.

The film endorses the education of Africans as British citizens, yet this model of a British school is adapted, to an extent, to the perceived needs of the locals. For example, an intertitle explains that ‘In the afternoons the seniors have practical work!’ The exclamation mark appears to emphasise the contrast here with the British model, as the locals work on the fields and perform carpentry. Breakfast is eaten outside from shared bowls, while during ‘break’ a boy is depicted asleep outside, as others dance and hop around the playground. These variations serve both as a comedic device and as a means of privileging the British schoolchildren, who were a prominent part of the film’s intended audience.

While the formal structure of At School in Tanganyika shares much in common with Cutler’s other film, A Day in the Life of a Msukuma called Kinga Mkono, there are clear differences in the representation of the locals. In contrast to the ethnographic sequences of traditional Africa, At School in Tanganyika depicts literate African children, taught by an African teacher, in shirt and tie, who writes on a blackboard. The children wear uniforms and are organised and disciplined – most notably in the P.T. lessons, which appear almost as a military parade – although this representation serves largely to promote the work of the colonial education department. Furthermore, in many respects the African children are still on display within the film, whether lined up for inspection by their teachers or presented in close-up looking directly at the camera, as in the film’s conclusion.

Tom Rice (June 2008) 


Works Cited

‘Educational Films: Films of Native Life in East Africa taken by Messrs. Wheeler and Cutler’, 1937, CO323/1421/13, accessed at The National Archives (PRO).

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929-1939: Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930s (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

‘At School in Tanganyika’, Monthly Film Bulletin (September 1941), 126.

Notcutt, L.A. and G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema : An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937 (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1937).

‘The National Library’, Sight and Sound, Autumn 1937, 167.

‘Educating the Native’, The Times, 21 September 1937, 13.




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
250 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain