This week was the last week of the second trimester (only one more!), and therefore, an important week of revision, answering questions, attending to notebook checks, verifying that all students have completed the assignments of the trimester, and more.
In Mozambique, however, the school decided to cancel class all afternoon Tuesday for an impromptu teachers’ meeting. Typical. I took advantage of all the teachers being held up in the meeting and combined my classes of students, gave my lessons, and then casually slipped in to catch the end of the meeting. What I learned at the meeting: our school ranks at an impressively low 154th in the country. Now I do not know for sure how many secondary schools there are in Mozambique, but the lowest ranking I saw on the charts was 183, so I would venture somewhere around there. This fact definitely does nothing for moral. And many schools that I know are much more disorganized than mine had higher rankings, owing to more rampant corruption, grade-changing, and overall fraud.The 29th worst school in Mozambique is what a shred of honesty gets you. Furthermore, Zambézia is the second lowest achieving province overall. Sweet. And finally, I also learned that on the 12th grade national exams one must pass to graduate, in 2011, only 9.1% of students at my school passed the first round (if you fail, you are given another chance a month later). Passing in Mozambique requires only achieving a 9.5 out of 20 or higher, or equivalently, at leasta 47.5% (in America, passing is 70%; can you imagine a school system full of students getting 55s and thinking that is good?! Because that is what you have in Moz…). That means that 90.9% of 12th graders last year at my school did not understand at least 52.5% of the material they were expected to. 90.9% of students got less than a 48. A devastating blow. This therefore means one of two things: 1. Students in Mozambique are exceptionally stupid (which I onlymostly disagree with) or 2. The standards are way too high for the reality of what students are capable of learning and teachers of teaching. My vote is on the latter, with perhaps a hint of the former mixed in…
Then on Thursday, with exams to commence Friday, they canceled first period of both the morning and afternoon sessions to discuss with the students the process of the exams and to call up and reward the best students in each class. Now, I am not necessarily against the dissemination of this information, but I am against cancelling the class period 5 minutes before it started when I had planned either to do a review or a final evaluation, depending on the different subjects I teach. Then the rest of the day was given over to the students to copy long texts in Portuguese and English from the board because they would not each be given their own exam paper on exam day. Needless to say, I lost my shit. Why can’t we ask for students to contribute the 2 meticais per test it would take to make copies?! Normally I am against asking poor students to give money to take a test, but in this scenario, considering the alternatives, I liked it. Well, I was informed, the government, which provides nothing to the school except the salaries of the teachers, and this usually months late, has mandated that the schools cannot accept money from students for the final exams. The government provides the exams, chock full of errors, well beyond the abilities of the students, and often on topics not required in the curriculum, and insists we use them. But they only provide one copy for each discipline for each grade. One copy of the 8th grade math test only gets you so far for 400 eighth graders. So the school, now with no money from the government to make copies and without the ability to charge students, must raise the necessary funds. All this the day before the first exams are to begin. Now this is a quandary if I ever heard one. Ultimately, I “loaned” the school the money to make the copies, and yes, I realize I will never see that money again, because I was sick of all the bullshit. I know this act is not sustainable and that it is not advisable by any standards of development. But it was something I could concretely do to help because I could not think of another alternative aside from smashing all the students in the gym, typing the tests into the computer, and using the projector. With all the problems we have been having with energy recently, I ventured not to suggest this for fear of further chaos. And the hope is that next trimester, when my school has begun to make money from the copy machine my wonderful friends and family helped to buy, they can turn that money into the copies of final exams. At least, that is the hope.
As has been my mantra all year, education here is a joke: teachers and students alike view it as such. One of the nuns that run the girls dorm is from Swaziland, a neighbor of Mozambique that, like all its neighboring countries, is English speaking. So she likes to chat with me. On Thursday, we had an hour-long bashing session of the Mozambican school system, as apparently the Swazi schools are more, effective, strict, transparent, and honest, at least according to her. No one takes academics seriously we agreed. It is just not good for the spirits to see 35 year-old teachers cozying up to 16 year-old students instead of going to class. It is demoralizing to give out zeros to half the class because they all cheated on the assignment. It is downright upsetting to have class cancelled on you at the last minute on a regular basis. It is devastating to witness 17 year-olds at the school party drunkenly announcing that they want to sleep with Professor X or Professor Y. AndI hate planning fun, interesting lessons only to have many of my students be unable to open up their minds to properly absorb and comprehend information, because after years in a mind-numbingly boring scholastic situation, they are unable to do anything except incorrectly vomit information from the board onto the assignment without an inkling of understanding. Watching illiterate students copy shapes of letters and words in the ninth grade does nothing to make you want to keep on teaching. Such is the way of the Mozambican school system.
And finally, I also wanted to comment on barulho (noise). Sometimes I will wake up briefly at 1am and be totally unaccustomed to the deafening silence I encounter. I savor it in my two-minute half-asleep, half-awake daze, because I know that the next time I wake up, the racket that is inherent in Mozambican life will inevitably be in full throttle. Living in Mozambique is anything but quiet. From roosters crowing to people sweeping their front yards to dogs fighting and barking incessantly to a few women getting a jumpstart on the day’s grain pounding, the commotion and clamor start before daybreak. And all day, there are people talking loudly, the din of buckets being filled with water, the disturbance of children screaming, and so much more. My yard is the neighborhood, and these close quarters do nothing to deflect the sound blast. And to top it all off, all day and until late at night (maybe like 10 or 11pm here), except on those glorious days when the energy has gone out, people are blaring music. I often go to sleep to the sounds of horrible Mozambican rap and then wake up at 5am to the same song on repeat. And the night after the school day party last week, it seemed like every teacher’s house in the neighborhood was hosting 30 drunken students and a cacophonous cornucopia of bad music that lasted 3 days. And with Independence Day on Monday, I am steeling myself for another jarringly loud rave. I would like to qualify this last paragraph that I do appreciate the vivacity of life in Mozambique: there is always someone around to chat with, always some leaf-tearing or rice sorting to help with, and life is never totally dull. But it damn sure is loud.