Peace Corps Mozambique has an education sector which indicates that many people thought that the education system here needed improving. I have been told, “you can’t hold the kids here up to an American standard” and I agree that is true, but my question is: to what standard can I hold them? There are many things that are out of the kids’ control: you can’t expect students to learn as much when they are one in a class of 80+ students, or when they don’t even learn their letters until they start first grade (because their parents and grandparents speak the local Bantu language at home) and they are being taught by a primary school teacher who only completed the tenth grade and one year of teacher formation school, and how much can you expect them to know about the world then nobody owns a map or books? But at the same time there are things that 8th graders SHOULD know, that they NEED to know, regardless of the challenges they have faced.
Today I had a double block of “Life Group” with my homeroom class that I am director of. I have talked to a few of my colleagues about what they do during Life Group. A lot of them talk about proper behavior and other life skills, and a lot of them make their kids practice reading and writing. A lot of the students in eighth grade still can’t read and write well, which is part of the reason they take so long to copy what I write on the board. Nowadays when I ask for a volunteer to read what I have written on the board, there is a huge commotion as 12 students jump up and try to out-shout each other until there is only one person left standing, so I have switched to randomly picking a student from the class list. Yesterday in class I unknowingly picked a student who could barely read.
For my Life Group I prepared a Jeopardy-type game of things that I thought eighth graders ought to know in the topics Mozambique, Math, The World, America, and HIV/AIDS. I had two of the sisters revise my questions because even when they weren’t technically wrong, they weren’t phrased in the way a Mozambican would have said it. I asked them if these questions were good for eighth graders and they said yes, they should know the answers, and one of the sisters even wants to play the game with the girls from the orphanage.
Well the game turned out quite dismally. What year did Mozambique gain independence? He said 1995, it was 1975. What is the name of the lagoon here in Inharrime? Nobody in the class knew. Name the three political parties? He knew the two main ones, which was good, but didn’t know the newest one, MDM, which made big news during the elections in November when it created quite a stir. Who was the first president of the Republic of Mozambique? He knew the last name, Machel, but didn’t know his full name and come on, there have only been like three important men in Mozambican history. Name the ten provinces of Mozambique. She could only name seven, and Angola (another country in Africa) was one of them. Nobody in the class knew the line of latitude (Tropic of Capricorn) that runs through Mozambique about 100K north of Inharrime. The girl did know that the Mozambican flag has five colors and what they are, so that was good. What are the six countries that border Mozambique? He said America, Portugal, Africa, and Asia. (Unrelated, PCVs are often asked how long it takes to drive from here to America and the other day I was asked which is closer, Zimbabwe or America?) Name four countries where Portuguese is the official language. He said Portugal. Only. Not Mozambique. Name the line of latitude that cuts the world in half, nobody knew. Portugal is in what continent? She said America. Name the seven continents. America, Portugal, and China. Name one country in Asia other than China. Africa. Name two countries in South America. America and Portugal. How many countries are in the continent of Africa: 1, 11, 47, 99? She picked 11 (the answer is 47). The good news is that the HIV/AIDS section was good. This section was mostly true/false, and they knew that white people can have HIV/AIDS, and that you can’t get HIV/AIDS from a kiss or a mosquito.
And so, like I said, I am not sure what to think. Perhaps it is unreasonable of me to expect someone who has possibly never seen a map in their life to understand the difference between a continent and a country. But they still need to know. I told two of the sisters about it and they seemed shocked that the kids knew so little. They told me to write out the answers and make the kids study them and try playing again, since it was all stuff that they really should know.