We Don’t Get No Education

Students in Tanzania

Yes, I think they are in the right direction. In 1960, 76% of the population older than 25 had gotten NO SCHOOLING. Forty years later, the number was down to 43.5%.*

But that is still a LOT of children who are not being educated, at least not formally. I saw it with my own eyes while hiking in the Usambara Mountains in Northeastern Tanzania.

Kids all over the place

Throughout the entire day we’d see kids out in the road, running and screaming. Our guide often asked them why they were not in school and got a different excuse each time. When we passed a school one evening in a place called Rangwe, I asked to go in. This is something I found on the noticeboard:

List of exam results

Do you see how many F’s there are? Division 1 is the the highest level. Notice there are zero students in Division 1. Whereas in the “failed” category there are plenty.

The next day we saw more students on their way to and from school, in uniforms and cheerful. “Good morning teacher”, the older ones greeted us, while the less learned ones called “bye muzungu”.

We entered the school grounds and a hoard of shrieking kids began to follow our every move, shaking with laughter. They kept creeping up and then backing away whenever we turned to look at them.

We walked into the teacher’s room, which had a few weary looking women. For nearly 700 students in the school, they are six teachers. It’s no wonder they were sour.

The Teacher's Lounge

I was introduced as a teacher, and my being white earned me the status of a person who has to be taken care of and shown around. So I entered a classroom of wide-eyed students who all stood up when I entered the room. Although I’m not generally shy, I found myself at a loss of words in front of the class. After all, what was I going to say? Hi, I came to look at you?

Downhearted, but hopeful that maybe I’d be able to make an impact in Uganda, I left the school. A few tens of students seemed keen on escorting me out.

I am now in Namulanda, a small village with a very special art school for disadvataged children. Back home, I created a lesson plan packed with information, ideas and equipment. I was going to teach the topic of self-portraits, through the lenses of different artists throughout history. We would explore different mediums, such as painting, drawing and collage, and we would explore ourselves and try to understand what it even means to make a self-portrait.

But when I got here, I realized there was no math teacher. And the English teacher was actually the preschool teacher, who was leaving the small children so she could teach the older ones. And there was no sports class. The moment I expressed interst in this, I was pegged down to teach English, math and sports to all grades, as well as teaching a group of mothers how to read.

I will have to try and work out a schedule, and see where I will fit in the other things I had in mind – namely building something sustainable, and helping the students figure out what they will do when they leave this wonderful school, but in any case, these are going to be a busy few months.

* (International Data on Educational Attainment: Updates and Implications. Robert J. Barro and Jong-Wha Lee, 2000)


Some Problems in Swahili

I don’t consider myself a Swahili speaker, but I’ve picked up a few words of this East African language, and I’ve already discovered an array of problems.

There is a set answer for everything:

Habari (how are you) – Nzuri (good)

Mambo (what’s up) – Poa (cool)

Vipi (how’s it going) – Safi (clean)

What if you’ve just had a terrible day? Is everything still good, cool and clean? You’re stuck.

There are not enough words:

The word for yummy is tamu.

The word for sweet is tamu.

Hence, there is no way of conveying that something is sweet but not good. Or of telling someone that what you are eating is too sweet. Maybe that’s why the truck drivers here fill up their tea with a half cup of sugar.

The word for good is nzuri.

The word for cute is nzuri.

What if you saw a child who is very cute but is somewhat mischevious? What if a child is an extremely good student and hard worker, but is just not that cute?

Pole means sorry.

Pole pole means slowly.

Whenever people tell me they’re sorry after a long day of hiking, I am sure they’re telling me I was very slow. And what if you want to say “slowly slowly?” Pole pole pole pole?

They add ee to everything:

Hotel is hoteli.

Carrot is carroti.

You can’t really have a conversation like that with someone and not burst out laughing. Nor can you understand whether eight means eight or eighty.