Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An education in education

This is crazy long, but there are pictures!!

Every day I'm definitely receiving an education in Zambian education. Teachers here seldom explain conceptual or contextual elements of problems, there is little critical thinking, and a great deal of memorization; these are perhaps traces of the British system. Yet the curriculum in Zambia is much more holistic than that of the states; students can be tested on their national exams on everything from very practical health and wellness to religion to arts.  There is a wide spectrum of payment for teachers because there are so many types of schools; some are wealthier, but many teachers in community schools are paid between $20 and $40 a month, whereas others are just called "volunteers" because they are paid next to nothing. For these teachers students often bring items like soap, bread, and other necessities the teacher cannot afford, so it's easy to understand low retention rates of these "volunteers" in community schools. They may teach multiple grade levels in a one-room classroom. In Zambia, the grade number can be deceiving. Students attend whenever they can afford school (and school-related) fees, or whenever their families can afford for them to be out of the home. If a student is no longer able to pay the fees, they may drop out for weeks, months, even years at a time, and some are unable to return at all unless their financial situation improves. School-related fees are often the clincher for families, because students must purchase uniforms, supplies, pay for transportation (or housing or boarding close to the school), etc. Students must also pass examinations periodically to move to the next grade level, and if they do not pass they remain and begin the term again. Thus, in a 4th grade class, there can very easily be a vast age range, varying from 9-year-olds to post-14. This definitely makes the classroom an interesting and engaging place!

To be honest these people are an utterly undeserved gift. Kids who won't go to lunch because they say you're a good teacher (the more accurate assessment is that they are fantastic children who make teaching fun!), children who shout out in excitement during prayer that they're thankful you came, teachers who make huge progress in their own mathematical understanding and say they wish you'd come in January, and friends who give you margarine and white bread sandwiches during teaching breaks. At Mercy specifically I teach mathematics to grades 5, 6, and 7, Bible study, crafts (which is an adventure...I can draw stick people.....! :) ) and I work with the teachers on their mathematical comprehension. One adult wants to go re-take her 12th grade exam! She's awesome! Others are going to the university via correspondence, and some just want to learn. At Chikumbuso I work with groups of 7th and 9th graders who are preparing for their national exams, and I lead a short Bible study with children after school. The students are so engaged and willing to learn, and it was amazing to see the progress and excitement at the end of the lesson.

I've been reading a study on sexual harassment and abuse in Zambia, specifically focused on gender-based violence in schools. You can find the study here, and I would absolutely recommend reading it if you have the time. Male-dominating cultural values here often impose beliefs of stupidity and incapability upon girls and enable men to abuse females around them. Girls are propositioned, threatened, coerced, bribed, raped and touched by male teachers as well as classmates. Sometimes girl students believe, because this has been reinforced in a slew of societal norms, that they are less capable of academic success. They assume they can only succeed in school by allowing abusers to violate them in exchange for academic favors or assistance. Others are simply targeted because of their gender. Teachers will bribe students with better grades, or if the instructor is well off, they will pay for food, school fees, books, shoes, or school uniforms required to attend school, or other necessities to manipulate students into engaging in sexual relations with them. 66% of households living below the basic poverty line in Zambia, and so the struggle for necessities makes many students vulnerable. When girls refuse propositions, teachers often give them poor grades, embarrass, beat or neglect them in class, or speak falsely to the parents of the students. 

National exams in Zambia are a very big deal. It's expensive enough for students to attend school, so you can imagine the pressure they feel to do well. And often they won't have an opportunity to re-take because of financial constraints. This opens the door for teachers to bribe students with “leakages” (test answers) or one-on-one “tutoring sessions” in the teacher’s home in exchange for sex. The reality of this occurrence makes me all the more vigilant about working with the students at Chikumbuso who are preparing for their exams in hopes that they will not see a need for leakages and are confident enough to say no to propositions, and to pray for my students!

However, female students are not only at risk in school, they can also be preyed upon in transit. Students often walk very long distances to school, and so sometimes kids will try to hitch a ride along the roadside. It absolutely breaks my heart when I see girls standing by the road who could be picked up by any driver who stops. Students commonly walk anywhere from twenty minutes to over eighty one way to get to school—cars are a luxury. The blue minibus system here is unsafe and unreliable, and so even those not soliciting a ride run the risk of becoming victimized: U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women noted that Zambian “girls are reported to have sexual relationships with minibus and taxi drivers as a way of coping with transport costs.” To avoid the long transit, some students will stay at boarding schools that are often makeshift dormitories. These girls are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse by men, including truck drivers who temporarily stop near the boarding houses looking for sex.

Girls who become pregnant as a result of these violations bear the stigma and discrimination, financial burden, and responsibility. Physically, these pregnancies often result in unsafe abortions, and if carried full term, also mean significant risks considering the very young age of the girls. CPP and HIV/AIDS are two other major physical risks. Further, sometimes families won't pay the fees for a pregnant student. This often leads to early marriage and drop out, along with the psychological effects such as anxiety, PTSD, suicide, depression and stress. One study found that pregnancy was the reason for 25% of dropouts in Zambia, with 36,256 girls leaving school because of pregnancy between 2004 and 2007.

As far as reporting and convicting is concerned, the “absence of clear policies and procedures for preventing and responding to abuse, attitudes among school authorities that minimize abuse or blame the girl student, inadequate or inappropriately lenient responses by school teachers and administrators, and insufficient support services for children who are subjected to abuse” are a few major barriers. Many girls are not aware of school policies or procedures to address abuse, “did not view what had happened to them as an offense, felt that nothing would be done about what had happened, feared that they would be disbelieved and blamed for the sexual abuse they had suffered, or worried that the perpetrator would retaliate against them. Many of those concerns were grounded in girls’ personal experiences or their observations of classmates’ and friends’ experiences.”

Thus there is a normalizing sexual abuse, and an attitude of blame toward the girls. Because it seems structurally and culturally there is a lack of alternatives, the school environment can be very unpleasant, discouraging, and hostile. Studying is difficult enough without the fear, baggage, or marks of abuse and this hopelessness and discrimination often leads to absenteeism, abandoning school, and, for those who stay, diminished academic performance, shame and beliefs of stupidity and worthlessness. One of the things that makes me sick is the teachers often tell these students that they love them in order to receive sexual favors. And girls just start to accept this treatment and start believing this is the extent of "love" and of their worth, because the people who claim to care very clearly don't support these assertions with their actions.

On the other end of the spectrum, the teachers at Mercy and Chikumbuso are truly astounding. These teachers make a distinct effort to love and value the students they serve, and to show them that they are cared for and treasured by God. It's a true honor to learn from these people, I look up to them so much! When I see so much pain and injustice it's easy to forget to be thankful for the good that IS happening. And there truly is a lot to be thankful for, and to pray for. Below are pictures of a few Chikumbuso once the kids start to get to know you they want to take a million pictures! Meet some of these cool kids!

As you can see, Deborah (in the orange shirt) loves to hop into photographs!

One of the kids snapped this one!

A main street in the city portion of Lusaka

These lil guys will be bananas someday!

Just, you know, for reference.

1 comment:

  1. This is so sad,how is this reality? This makes me want to do something to change things NOW!