The content of this blog does not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps and is solely the responsibility of the author.

Tanzanian Bus Bingo Card

Bus breaks down

Vomiting person
Reeking food item
4:1 person to seat ratio

Breast-feeding woman
Stopped by police
Chickens under seats,
Chicken in a plastic bag,

In which I have Thoughts, Opinions, and Possibly Attitudes about the Tanzanian Educational System

The Tanzanian government likes tests.  Likes them so much, in fact, that it has mandatory national exams, some of which determine whether or not a student graduates regardless of any other work that student has done and some of which are just for funsies.  I am at the college used for the marking of such, which means that all the people learning how to teach have just lost slightly more than a month out of only a 2 year curriculum.  This means I am not teaching or integrating into the community, but hanging out by myself in a room full of electronic equipment.  Sometimes monkeys stare at me.

I actually have way too much to do right now because I am pathologically incapable of saying no to requests to fix this, that, and the other thing, and I know you just left, but can you come back and do this urgent thing?  This is, however, not the point.

The government is pushing computer education in schools.  Good on them!  I think this is a highly worthy goal.  Computers and education are something that the government itself really needs.  Suppose, for example, you go to a police station to report a robbery, because you are a good responsible citizen interested in justice and also you need a police report in order to be issued a new atm card from the bank.  So you go to a police station, you answer the curt questions of name, age, religion, and tribe, stuff is written down in  a giant ledger, a small piece of notebook paper with cryptic numbers indicating your reports location (there are huge stacks of giant ledgers everywhere) is given to you, along with a police report form, which you take across the street and make copies of at your own expense, after which you bring the copies (and original) back to the police station and hand some person the forms and the small piece of notebook paper.  The person uses the numbers in the notebook paper to go look at the ledger, write down the information from the ledger on the copies of the police report form you just made, and then you pay an additional fee to get an official rubber stamp placed on the form.  As a good and responsible citizen, I would never consider just getting my own rubber stamp made and keeping an additional blank copy of the form just to save hassle on possible subsequent occasions.  The reason I bring all this up is because this is a system begging to be computerized.   If nothing else, hard drives take up a lot less space and are more sanitary than giant piles of moldering and cobwebby ledgers, and are easier to search.     Having computers easily available would help retail a great deal.  There are places in the world where making change is not a huge issue because there is a computerized thingie that tells people how much change to give and there is a well organized container of cash with which to make change.  This computerized thingie is also a convenient way of keeping records of cash flow, just kind of as a side thing, but I never realized until I came here just how amazing it is to have the infrastructure in places such that one can buy $1.36 worth of stuff with a $20 bill and be assured of getting the correct change, right then immediately.  If one even uses cash, which as a general rule, I don't in the US, because we live in the future where bits of plastic can be used instead because even small business owners have credit card readers.  

Anyway, computers are good.  The problem is not getting the physical computers--people love throwing money for computers at Africa, which is good, everything has to start with a little money being tossed around--the problem is having any kind of realistic computer education.  There was an Irish group that just gave 7 computers to a primary school close to me, good on them!  God love the Irish, but they left before teaching anyone at the school how to use, much less teach computers.  This is a problem.  There are schools around Tanzania with piles of unused and dusty computers because there is no one to take care of them or use them to teach.  There is an official computer curriculum which is, as far as I can tell, useless.  As in, the other day I got an urgent phone call from a teacher at my college wanting to know how to find the server's IP address, because, while he is a highly educated computer teacher, there is nothing in the computer education that would prepare anyone to do anything to do that.  (In all fairness,  looking up a server's IP is a little more confusing than looking up the IP on your personal computer.)  Not that I've actually had a chance to teach, but I did observe a few classes before all of them were canceled for the grading of national exams.  Great weight is placed on students' ability to memorize categories of computers (there are many ways to place computers into category, the official syllabus picked size), the definition of a computer (which I disagree with), and the difference between data and information (which I'm not sure I know either).  There is also great emphasis placed on being able to use Microsoft Office products.  And by use, I mean work technically.  Personally, I think time teaching office software would be better spent teaching people how to type and how to actually give presentations, but who am I to argue with the demands of power point?  

All education has to start somewhere, and it's not like the majority of power point users in developed countries know how to use it to give a good presentation either, but there needs to be more and different stuff than what there is.  I recommend:

  • Games.  Typing games would probably be the easiest to sell to the ministry of education, but I am a great believer in computer familiarity via Minesweeper, Solitaire, and Oregon Trail.  
  • Hardware/maintenance education.  Teach people what is inside a computer, how to take care of it, why dust and water should be kept away from them, troubleshooting, and general guides to keeping a computer just plain running.
  • What's inside the box.  How a computer actually works, by which I mean files, file systems, the navigation therethrough, the basics of the huge complicated mess which is networking, operating systems and how to reinstall them if you screw things all to Dijkstra in your dedication to learning through experimentation, etc.  The great thing about people who have never touched a computer before is they aren't scared of it.  Tell people in the US to open a console or a terminal and type ipconfig/ifconfig and they freak out about the scary black box, and having to, like, type actual commands. Tell people in Tanzania to do the same thing and they just do it, because they aren't scared of it, and also the culture of Tanzania is one in which people do not brag about a lack of math and computer skills the way they do in the US (what's with that, anyway?).    

That's pretty much it, because there is limited time in the curriculum and computer classes often don't happen, but I think this is probably the important stuff for being able to keep the computer functioning and being familiar enough with it to be able to kind of figure out the rest.    Discussions of security and ethics and information and photo editing and stuff are great, but let's leave that until we have a functional infrastructure of computer education.  There are people here who know how to get on facebook but have no idea how to turn a computer on, and this I find problematic.  

In Which I go Hiking and Take a Few Photos

I took a week mostly for vacation and mostly in Dodoma* but I also went up the mountain to explore the trails there, which seem to have been blazed by very short people with machetes so one has to be careful of low branches, but Mount Uluguru is beautiful and has waterfalls.

*Technically, Dodoma was for serious work by which I mean a Peace Corps conference, but practically, it was a chance to chat with other volunteers and take hot showers multiple times a day unnecessarily.

It's a Beautiful Game

Last Friday I was invited to attend a football* match between the tutors(what they call the teachers) and the students at the college.  Since no less than three of my fellow ICT department members play for the tutors, and play right well, it was made fairly clear that they would really really like me to show up.  The students seemed to think it was a little odd, and told me in a concerned way that "madam, there is also a netball match between the female tutors and students going on over there."  There are Tanzanian women at a football match, but not nearly as many as men, and most of them seem to be there to dance, drum, and run onto the field waving tree branches if a goal is scored, so by ignoring the women's game and sitting with the men, I may be being culturally insensitive, but whatever.  I want to watch the football and cheer on the ICT department.  Also, for reasons I don't entirely understand, I got to sit at the table with the important people, meaning that if people closer to the pitch got in the way of my view, the important people would yell at them to move, and they did, and watching the football match was amazing.

First, because it was really really good football.   Everyone was trying hard to score, not just kicking the ball around, and it was one of those games where I am on the edge of my seat about every play.  Better still, there was sportsmanship and none of this taking dives and pretending injury to get penalty kicks.  When people took tumbles, which given the largely dirt nature of the pitch was frequently, whoever was around would help them up.  People were just as willing to cheer the referee for popular decisions as they were to boo for unpopular decisions.

There was also the ambiance of the match.  The spectators bring drums to these things and people dance and drum throughout.  As well they should.  Also, after the match (which ended 1-1), everyone runs up the hill, dancing, drumming, and yelling chants that some nice woman leaned close and repeated very clearly so I could chant them as well.  Delightful.

*The game Americans call soccer

Campus Life: With Monkeys

Today, I wandered about campus with a camera.  It was a subject of great hilarity, particularly as regards  my fascination with monkeys.  The things fulfill the same ecological niche as squirrels do in places that have squirrels, so while the students found it ridiculous that I wanted pictures of the ubiquitous little beasts, at the same time I had a crowd of young men shepherding me about saying things like "over there, madam, that one is very photogenic!"  

Mt Uluguru, right behind the campus.

checkers with water bottle caps

volleyball court and women's dorms

dining hall

one of the many very scenic walks

view as I come in the front gate


In Which I Try to Explain What I am Actually Doing Here

This is difficult, since I am not entirely certain myself.  I am working as an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) at a teacher's training college, which doesn't mean what you may think it means.  The education system in Tanzania is as follows:

  • Primary school: standards 1-7, mandatory for all children, but not really enforced.  Age of pupils: pretty youngish.  Medium of instruction: Kiswahili.  Teacher qualifications: have successfully completed primary school.

  • Secondary school O level: forms 1-4.  I think students have to pass some test to get in.   Age of pupils: less youngish but typically adolescents.  Medium of instruction: English.  Teacher qualifications: have completed teacher training college.

  • Secondary school A level: forms 5-6.  Students must definitely pass some tests in O level to get in.  Age of pupils: older adolescents-20 somethings.   Medium of instruction: English.  Teacher qualifications: have completed teacher training college.

  • Teacher Training College: 2 years.  Students must have completed A level, but typically did not score well enough to enter university.  Age of pupils: wildly varies.  Medium of instruction: English.  Teacher qualifications: I think hold University degree?  I could be making that up.  

  • University: I know nothing about this, but children have to complete A level and pass some tests to get in.  

So I am at a teacher college and I have some periods that I am supposed to be teaching but I have been told feel free to take some time to not teach them for the first week or 3 or more, and here's a list of stuff we would like you to fix.  I'm not wild about the teaching, since from what I understand, I actually have to teach the official government ICT syllabus, and after doing some internship teaching at a local secondary school, I think what I really need to be teaching is how to maintain a computer lab.  Tanzania's current problem as I see it, is that it keeps having money thrown at it but doesn't really have the personnel or education to do something with the money when caught.  I was interning at a computer lab that would have been fairly nice if anyone had done anything to keep the computers from breaking, or actually used the lab to teach computers, but there weren't really any teachers there who knew anything, and secondary schools have high teacher turnover.

Alternatively, I could spend a lot of time fixing computer stuff here and at other schools.  This actually seems fairly attractive since it would also mean I could probably travel around the country on Peace Corps money fixing people's stuff.  The problem being I don't see that as being a terribly sustainable project unless I can find/train a Tanzanian to be me once I leave.

In the meantime, I am just attempting to put together a livable house that has a bare minimum of stuff.  Today I managed to drink real coffee for the third time in country* following a trip to the expensive wazungu supermarket in town, since according to a 19-year-old friend of mine here, only lazy men without jobs drink coffee.  This isn't strictly true, but coffee usually only shows up here in the form of nasty instant stuff and if I hadn't brought a french press from the states, I would be struggling with the problem of where to find a coffee maker.   There is always the cheap unroasted beans one can buy in the marketplace, but I left my grinder in US.  Also, I'm not sure I have the dedication necessary to roast my own beans.

Tomorrow I will configure a router and solve other first world problems, as well as attend a staff meeting conducted in Kiswahili that I don't understand, but there will be chai.  

*1st time: swankiest hotel in town.  They had a leather couch.  They brought me coffee in a French Press.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  2nd time: dinner party with Europeans.  They also had ice cream.  I would have thought I'd died and gone to heaven, but I was slightly intimidated by the perfectly balanced table and dressing for dinner and multiplicity of forks, heretofore only encountered in Georgette Heyer mystery novels.