Sunday, October 10, 2010

Things that you can't learn in just any high school

Hello! Right now we are staying at St. Ignatius Loyola Mawego Girl’s Secondary School (say that 5 times fast) and, so far, it has been a really interesting experience. While we were in Eldoret we were constantly with children. Yes, they were all adorable and I miss them terribly, but we couldn’t communicate with or relate to them as well as we can with these high school girls. Here, we are with girls our age who are really very similar to us. They like to dance and talk about boys. They travel in packs (high school girls can’t even walk to the bathroom alone) and complain about homework. They make fun of each other and like to dress up and pretend to be on a catwalk. All of us are biding our time in high school, thinking up crazy dreams for the future.

Along with the similarities, there are also many differences that have made this exchange interesting. I’ve learned a lot about education in Kenya and some of the problems that the secondary students are facing. The thing that I think would be the most challenging about being a student in Kenya is that you never get to learn in your first language. There are 42 tribes here and each one has its own language. The country’s national language is Swahili and its official language is English. Swahili was created so that people from different tribes can communicate with each other and people use English for very official business as well as in government. In schools they are required to speak only in these two languages, but since neither of these are the students’ “mother-tongue” it’s much harder for them to progress at a fast pace. For example: in literature class they are reading a book called, “The River Between,” which was written by a Kenyan author. Since the book was written in English (the girls’ third language) the students have to concentrate on understanding the words before they can discuss the themes, analyze the characters, and look into other in depth aspects of the book and the writing style. I can’t imagine covering the content in my English classes in my third language. I don’t know how they do it.

Another thing that is very different about the Kenyan education system is the way in which students apply for university. At home colleges look at your grades all throughout high school, your sports, your clubs, your application essays, and recommendation letters from your teachers. It makes it so that we have a lot of chances to prove ourselves and show our strengths. In Kenya, the students’ futures are entirely dependent on the exams they take at the end of their senior year. That would terrify me. Sine their school year is different than ours (students enter a new grade every January) the seniors here are only weeks away from their exams and I’m shocked at how calm they are. I honestly don’t think that I would be able to handle that stress. They have one day to take the exams and they are expected to take them even if they’re sick. The exam can’t be repeated and it is the only thing colleges look at when selecting students. I feel like I would completely fail the exam from stress alone.

Another challenge facing Kenyan students was brought about by the former president. Grace told us that in an effort to raise the number of people who are offered a college education, the president lowered the passing grade from a C+ to a D+. Because of this, people who really had not learned enough and still needed to be taught more thoroughly were going to college and becoming teachers themselves. As you can imagine, this had a negative impact on an entire generation of students. Grace said that she doesn’t know how long it will take to phase out the teachers who were accepted because of this policy or how long it will take to catch-up the students who were taught by these unqualified people.

I have learned a lot about the difficult things about being a student here, but the girls have also shown me the good side of their secondary schooling. They like how they always have access to their teachers (since a large percentage of Kenyan high schools are boarding). They like that since they are in a boarding school they don’t have to worry about the large quantity of household chores that are usually a girl’s responsibility if she lives at home. They say that they are eager to be educated because they want to make it so that in their generation, “A woman’s place is not only in the kitchen."

All the people in this school (from the headmistress to the freshmen) really recognize the problems facing the girls and are constantly looking for ways to advance the students, the school, and the country as a whole. Through these girls, I’ve learned more about staying focused on a goal, I’ve tried learning how to dance (but that didn’t go very well), and I’ve learned never to settle, even if you’ve done well, because there is always an even higher goal to reach for.

Miss you all!

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