Tuesday, March 18, 2008

But You Don't Speak English

But you don’t speak English

I wrote earlier about visiting government schools in this region and seeing their total inadequacy in schooling local children. That teachers don’t turn up to teach and students don’t turn up to learn is a sobering reminder of why Africa remains left behind. One day my friend Emily and I took a tour of Zambian private schools, where anybody who has any money at all tries to place their children. Even then, the Zambian private schools were still quite inadequate—although much better than the public schools. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems a can of paint would go a long ways in brightening up these classrooms. The final school we visited was Simba, the International School in Ndola where ex-pats and white or Indian Zambians send their children. Here the walls were very colorful, the teachers well trained, and students focused on their British-based curriculum and bright futures.

One incident stands out in our visit of the Zambian private schools. I stepped into a courtyard to speak with students of mid to upper elementary age students. They were a bright and cheerful bunch in their snappy green uniforms and were eager to talk to a visitor. After talking for a little while I asked the group if they could guess where I was from. The UK was first on the list followed by South Africa, Australia, and Zimbabwe—followed by a repeat of the list a couple more times. I asked them to think of another large English speaking country, but the group remained completely stumped. Not one student guessed the United States or, even, America. We are simply not on their radar screen….humbling. I told them to ask their teacher to look up the United States on a map…later to learn there wasn’t one map in the entire school.

Later I shared this story and my dismay that not one student thought of the United States as an English speaking country. My South African friend laughed… “but you don’t speak English,” she said. Hmmmm.

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