Thoughts from Cindy...
An Incomplete Education
We are all shackled by an incomplete education. Yesterday
concluded a two-day faculty seminar on teaching for understanding. Our
participants included faculty professors, museum curators, program Directors
and a high school teacher, Alfredo, from neighboring Villa Gorongosa. The
workshop was well received and the evaluations positive. The first day’s reflections
included a comment that gave me pause by raising a question about the
connection of our work to Mozambican classrooms. We’d been told that schools in
Mozambique have many students and few resources. One participant described
students constructing skeletons from scavenged cardboard boxes to study human
Today we were privileged to visit Alfredo’s school. To get
to Villa Gorongosa, we left the park along a narrow, bumpy dirt road to reach
Highway 1 which stretches across the African continent from Cape Town to Cairo.
Highway 1 is, for the most part, a 2-lane paved road until one reaches a pot
hole nearly a meter deep and several meters wide, reducing the highway to a
single lane. All along the highway, people were walking, riding bicycles and
motorcycles, carrying goods to and from the Villa. One man, carrying three
large loads of charcoal, was laboriously pushing his bicycle up the hill. Even
though we were fifteen minutes by car from the Villa, countless women walked
along the edge of the road, carrying infants on their back and five-gallon containers
of water on their heads. It would be difficult to do much else in the course of
a day beyond walking to the Villa and back with enough water to last until the
next trip for water the next day.
When we arrived at the Alfredo’s secondary school, Escola
Secundária Eduardo Mondlane Gorongosa, named after the first president to rule
after the revolution (the equivalent of our George Washington), we were greeted
by the Director of the school. Alfredo pointed him out as we got out of the
trucks, smiling as he noted that Directors were always rotund. The Director
greeted us warmly, showing us the main office and faculty room, both of which
filled a space no larger than 10 x 20 feet. On the back wall hug a hang written
poster of the periodic table. In the Director’s small office, he proudly
displayed several plastic trophies of football (soccer) and academic
accomplishments. His pride in his school and passion for his students was
evident in each description.
On our way to the first classroom, we met several teachers.
In Mozambique, teacher all wear white lab coats and as referred to as
professors. They are treated with great respect by students and community. They
led us to the first classroom. The walls were bare except for a green chalkboard
mounted in the front of the room. The only furnishings were wooden desks
comprised of a bench and narrow writing surface, each of which accommodated two
students. There was no space for anything else. The classroom was full of at
least 70 students in uniform. Each one was fully engaged in a lesson on
geometry, all eyes focused on the single student drawing with a ruler and chalk
on the board under the watchful eye of his professor. The Director introduced
us as teachers form the United States coming to learn about their school. As we
introduced ourselves, in unison every student repeated our names, laughing as
they tried to pronounce the foreign sounds. I was struck by the singular focus
of their attention. There was not a single student who was not giving us their
With great pride the Director then showed us the computer
lab. Twenty-two computers obtained through a grant were arranged on each side
of the narrow room. He explained how fortunate they were to have this many
computers in the school. Each machine had several USB ports, but no DVD drive.
Twenty-two computers for the 2,282 students. There was no internet access
however. Alfredo explained that while internet was inexpensive, the school didn’t
have enough money to pay for it. The computers were used to teach students how
to use the computer as many had never seen a computer before.
Our next stop was the library. A room smaller than most
faculty offices in the US, the back of the room housed the school’s collection
of books on two small bookshelves. Five students filled every available desk in
the library, carefully copying questions and writing answers from a workbook.
Everything must be copied by hand as the few books available are used by all students.
In the courtyard, two students were engaged in a science
experiment. Cut plastic pop bottles with a water plant in fresh water and
mineral water, capped with a small drinking glass. They were trying to
determine which type of water produced the greatest amount of oxygen. With
their limited equipment, they had designed a good investigation.
As we left the school I was overwhelmed by the dedication of
the teachers who provide education to so many with so little, the dedication of
students who walk great distances to gain an education that will help lift them
from poverty and subsistence living. Both teachers and students consider
education a precious gift. There was absolutely no squandering of time or
resources. There wasn’t a single student who was not fully attentive and engaged
in their learning. It was, at times a stark contrast between Escola Eduardo
Mondlane and our school in the US and was viscerally painful. If only my students
could see what education looks like here!
In the classrooms, we were offered a chance to ask the students
questions. When they were asked how many wanted to attend university after
finishing high school, nearly all 70 hands were raised. The reality, though is
that few will actually be able to attend university. Many will not pass the
entrance exam. Those that do will likely be unable to afford the $2500/year
tuition. Of the few that do. Most will be male.
Of the 2282 students in Escola Eduardo Mondlane, only 800
were female. Many will not finish because they are needed at home or will
become mothers far too young. Educating girls in Mozambique is critical to solving
the problems that communities face, including child and maternal health, early
pregnancy and marriages, neonatal deaths and nutrition.
Yet, despite these realities and hardships, every student,
every adult we met was filled with joy and vivacious life. The happiness of
these generous and beautiful Mozambicans who do so much with so little have
filled my heart and soul with more than words can describe.