Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tanzania's Got Talent

From the June 5th edition of the Tanzania Daily News: Identifying, Developing Your Child's Talent

Elementary to primary school is where it all starts in building and developing your child's talent.  When a child reaches the age to start school, parents get overly excited to begin the educational journey for their kids, however expensive it might be.

Goals and wishes for what their children may or should major in when they reach universities will already have been planned.  Nothing is wrong with this kind of arrangement as parents do so believing that they are helping out, although it may not do justice to a child's talent, which they do not give the opportunity to grow naturally.  It is in these early stages of their educational journey that parents should concentrate on what talents their children have and who they want to be.

Although it may change as they grow, it will be a map which will give them a rough picture of who they really are and build some kind of confidence in themselves.

"I love drawing because it is my talent, which I started developing since Grade Four," says Abdul Abasi, a Grade Six student at Magomeni Primary School in Dar es Salaam.  Abdul, who is thirteen years old, shared this thought while showcasing some of his work together with his classmates recently as the nation was celebrating the International Cultural Diversity Day.

With a passion for drawing and proud of it, he says that apart from Mr. Wambura Maro, who is his teacher, he doesn't have any other support to help him develop this talent.  "I have told my parents to take me to various drawing competitions so as to see how good I am compared to other children, but they normally reply that they cannot afford it," adds Abdul.

In his understanding, tradition is made up of the culture and morals that are practiced by a certain community.  With part of his traditions being drum dances, drawing, and crafting, Abdul says "I am proud that I will be able to preserve my ancestors' history through my drawings."

"My dream is to become a famous and most talented fine artist in my future, as once my work is known to the world, so will my nation be," says Abdul.

Neema Tony, who is also in Grade Six, says that she loves drawing as it is a place that she can express her feelings and a way to help her relax as well.  "I love drawing and it has been a talent that has always been in my family in which I am dedicated to make it grow," says Neema.

In relating tradition and her drawings, she says that, "Tradition is the history of who our ancestors were and who we are supposed to be; it's the beginning of our history that was brought by our great-great-grandparents, and by drawing we are preserving our historical background and tradition."

Abdul and Neema's teacher, Mr. Maro says, "Children, who are tomorrow's generation, are supposed to be taught about our tradition and culture so that it will not be forgotten in this or the coming generations."

By going that extra mile, teachers can show the children how to preserve that culture by first preserving the students' talents.  "As a teacher and also a parent, I focus on helping all children learn how to draw, but in doing so I help these kids learn how to develop their talents," Mr. Maro states.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Relax, It's SpedEx

From the June 7th edition of The Guardian: Tanzania Lacks Special Needs Education Experts

Tanzania has only 134 special education experts distributed in several municipalities, the Parliament was told yesterday. 

Out of them, seven have certificate qualifications, 51 are diploma holders, and 76 attained a degree in special needs at the University of Dodoma, Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU), or Patandi Teacher Training Institute. 

Aggrey Mwanri, the Deputy Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (Regional Administration and Local Governments), told MPs that the government was aware of challenges in the provision of special education and was working hard to improve the situation. 

He was responding to a question from Special Seats MP Al-Shymaa Kwegyir (CCM) who wanted the government to state the number of special education officers in the country, following an outcry on the dire shortage. 

The MP also wanted to know their level of education, if it goes with the challenges facing students with special education, saying that special education teachers are mostly deployed to normal schools.  This leaves special schools with serious shortage of teachers, she stated. 

"Can the government tell the House if it plans to recruit more teachers for special education in the ongoing teachers' recruitment?" she demanded. 

Jennister Mhagama, the Deputy Minister for Education and Vocational Training, responded saying the government would recruit students for special education training. 

There is a big problem in the provision of special education due to inadequate staff in the sector but plans are underway to reduce the problem, she said. 

Another Special Seats MP, Dr. Mary Mwanjelwa (CHADEMA) said the needs and rights of disabled children in the country are neglected in education programs.

There are poor enrollment rates and high drop-out rates, and children and parents who are left out feel disheartened.

"Disabled children should be able to learn in regular schools, just like others," she emphasized, maintaining that the special education system only meets the needs of a few. 

A breadth of education experts assert that special schools are expensive to establish and run, and by segregating disabled children they inadvertently contribute to their permanent exclusion. 

Quite apart from this, the best chance a disabled child usually has for an education is through inclusion in a mainstream school. 

Records of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training show that fewer than five percent of disabled children in Tanzania go to school.

Even if they can get there, sustaining that vital education isn't easy; inaccessible buildings, a lack of suitable teaching materials, and a shortage of teachers make for a difficult learning environment.  Especially needed are teachers who know sign language and understand Braille.

All of this is compounded by the negative attitudes of education authorities and society in general.

"There is a growing concern on whether we care for education of people with disabilities," the MP intoned. 

People feel that there have not been effective plans to ensure that students with disabilities are given adequate support to access quality education at all levels.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Saving Grace

Meet Grace.

She is a nine-year-old Tanzanian girl who was brought to The Toa Nafasi Project by an American volunteer named Gavin.

Grace lives with her mama in the Moshi neighborhood of Majengo, but does not attend the local government school in that ward.  The teachers refused to accept her because she has a developmental delay and some mild physical disabilities.

So, instead of Mama paying the approximately $25usd it regularly costs to send a child to school for a year, Mama had to search far and wide for an alternate school that would accept Grace with her impairment.

Mama found said alternate school in the ritzy nabe of TPC (Moshi's sugar plantation) where she enrolled Grace in an English medium school, paying upwards of $60usd PER MONTH in order to obtain for her child what she felt was a decent education.

However, with Grace's learning difficulty, the investment wasn't really paying off: Grace's intellectual "needs" don't particularly require English language skills (she will unlikely ever be an academic superstar and really just needs to master the fundamental literacy and numeracy in order to be self-sufficient).  In addition - guess what? - the teachers at the TPC school were ignoring Grace and her special needs, so she was basically receiving the same treatment she would have gotten back in Majengo.  For a hefty price.

Enter Gavin.  A recent college grad from the Midwest U.S.A., he found Toa Nafasi through a common friend who runs a hostel in town and thought that Grace could benefit from an organization supporting children with learning difficulties.  He was right.

We brought Grace to Msaranga in April and assessed her.  We interviewed Mama and got Grace's history from birth and the story of Mama's pregnancy.  Vumi did not think that Grace needed to be enrolled at a special school such as Gabriella which we had initially thought, but did think that she could benefit by participating in Toa Nafasi tuition.  Well, that proved easier said than done.

I felt that Toa Nafasi needed to be contained (at least for the moment) in the village of Msaranga with students from the local primary school.  I mean, it's tough enough tracking all those kids and their comings and goings without then adding into the mix kids from outside the village.

So, Vumi suggested that Mama send Grace to us after her regular school hours to study with Vumi.  Well, okay, but then Mama is still paying the sixty bucks a month for an education that's not serving her child plus now she's gotta pay Vumi for private lessons on the side?  Not really ideal.

Finally, we hit upon the ultimate solution: take Grace out of the private English school at TPC where she's not able to take advantage of the education offered, enroll her at Msaranga Primary School where she'll fit right in with all the other village rugrats and be able to work with Vumi as part of The Toa Nafasi Project, and save Mama a bundle of shillings in the meantime!  Win-win-win!!

The photo above was taken on Grace's first day of school in Msaranga where she is now thriving.  She has made friends in the general Standard One classroom as well as in the Toa Nafasi tuition program.  She works with Vumi daily and has a keen understanding of the basic literacy and numeracy skills being taught.  She laughs, she plays, and no one tells her she's not good enough because of her impairment.


"It always seems impossible until it's done." -- Nelson Mandela

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Many Faces of Edwin Ludovick

I feel like the title of this week's blog entry could belong to a short story by James Thurber or E.B. White but, in actuality, it refers to the child pictured below, one Edwin Ludovick Lema, Standard One pupil at Msaranga Primary School.  Cute, right?
But then one looks into that face and wonders what plans little Ludovick (technically his father's name, but I prefer to call him such rather than his given moniker; it just feels *right*) has in store for us.  There's the faintest hint of a smile playing upon his lips and the crinkles by his eyes signify something mischievous afoot.  Plus, what's he gonna do with that big stick?!
A rapscallion of the highest order, Ludovick routinely wears his school bag cross-body with one strap over his head.  This look gives him the appearance of a miniature thug, a pint-size hoodlum, a grade school hooligan.  Check the one hip jutting, the arms carelessly hanging, the self-assured pout....  Quintessential Ludovick.

But before you write him off as the classroom bad boy, destined to break hearts, steal cars, and cause all kinds of mayhem on his way to adulthood, check out the softer side of Ludo.  He's not too macho to jump rope with the girls....

....Provided, of course, that he remain the center of attention at all times....

....Or unless he's taking a breather, cooling at the teachers' table until he regains his strength....and appetite for destruction....
Then there was this day a while back when we found him fairly naked thus, his shirt having gotten wet in an afternoon downpour.  Not sure if you can make out Yacinta's face in this shot, but her expression is priceless.
I had assumed early on that, due to his behavioral waywardness, he would not be a good student.  Maybe with a short attention span, a disdain for book learnin', an inability to leave the playground antics outside the classroom.  But I assumed wrong.  Ludovick is, in fact, one of the most capable students in this year's Standard One class!  When he's not handing out beatdowns or flirting with us teachers, he can read and write at the top of the class!!
Ahh, Ludovick!  You confounding child, you!!  A caper-puller, a hijink-purveyor, a practical jokester, and an all-around rabblerouser, you do have your secrets, don't you?!