The things I’ve learned on this trip are hard to even put into words because my learning goes so far beyond classroom. Being engrossed in the Tanzanian culture has allowed me to experience and learn things about Tanzania and the people that I never would have understood simply by reading a book. The Tanzanian people are literally the calmest, most relaxed people I’ve ever encountered in my life. “Hakuna Matata” is a phrase used quite often here. There are never any worries in Africa and there’s never any hurry. “Pole pole” (slowly slowly) is another phrase heard anytime someone seems to be in a hurry; there’s no hurry in Africa and the people make that known. Their relaxed lifestyle is so different than the American way. This is something I wish I could take home with me. Tanzanians are just all around really good people. They live a simple life and appreciate the little things. Although the Tanzanians insist that we (Americans) couldn’t possibly learn anything from them, I believe every American could learn from the African way of life.
Another thing that I’m learning a lot about from our classes, conversations with locals, and from my experiences teaching is the difference in the education system here in Tanzania compared to in America. I was expecting there to be a major difference you only have to sit in the classroom for 5 minutes to experience exactly how different schools in Africa are compared to schools in America. The physical differences of schools here are apparent as soon as you walk in the classroom. The classrooms are simply a big square room with cement walls and one small chalkboard in the front of the room. All the students sit in desks, no matter what grade they’re in. The floors are cement and the windows and doors are always open. If you watch a class in session, you will notice that the teaching style used most frequently is “chalk and talk”; the teacher lectures and writes things on the chalk board and the kids write down word for word what the teacher writes. The kids here have really good handwriting because they write so much but when they are asked to answer questions that involve critical thinking they don’t even know where to begin. A lot of times, the kids don’t understand what they’re writing because English is their second or third language. Most aren’t fluent in English, especially the younger ones, so you can imagine how hard learning new content is when you can hardly understand the language in which the content is being taught. Sometimes, the teacher’s English isn’t that great either. I’ve seen it happen more than once where the teacher gives incorrect information because they aren’t fluent in English themselves. Sometimes, even the textbooks have incorrect English grammar published in them. One might ask, why don’t they just teach the kids in the language they know? However, parents pay a lot of money to have their kids in an English medium school. Even though the English isn’t always accurate, the fact that the kids speak English gives them and the family a higher status in society.
The schooling system is so different I could go on and on pointing out differences. One difference that has been hard for me to swallow, however, is the use of corporal punishment. I knew kids were beat in school in Africa, but I didn’t prepare myself to see it every day! The very first day in my classroom the teacher was walking around with a ruler, hitting kids who weren’t writing fast enough. They get hit for having dirty finger nails, drinking water without asking, talking out of turn, not sitting “properly”, any poor behavior in the slightest is dealt with corporally. It’s been hard for many of us to manage our students because they only respond to being hit. They know we won’t hit them so they don’t behave for us. This has been a struggle especially for those teaching younger grades. For whatever reason, the older kids are much better behaved here.
Like I said, the things I’ve learned and am still learning are hard to write and explain in a short blog post. All I know is the experiences I’m having are teaching me about myself, the world, and the social equity issues much of the world still deal with today. I am a different person today because of these experiences.