Posted by: kristinej | May 24, 2010

May 24th

For the past two months or so, no college students have been going to class because the professors are on strike.  Apparently they are petitioning for a pay raise that would make their salaries equal to that of professors in neighboring countries.  In the last couple of weeks public high schools have also been shut down by a teacher strike, which is particularly serious for students in terminal who will be taking the Baccalaureat in June, whether they have been attending class for the last month and a half or not.  As of right now, when the strike ends the students will be make up the classes lost during summer vacation, but according to my host sister, if the strike continues too long, then the entire school year will be considered annulled, and all students in Mali will be forced to repeat the year, even if they attended a private school and completed the entire year.  I thought the strikes in France when I was there were annoying, but in Mali where so few people have access to education, I find it really sad that even those who are lucky enough to be in high school and university are being prevented from continuing their studies.

My host sister is one of those university students who has not had class for the last 2 or 3 months, and last night she was sharing some of her thoughts on the Malian school system with me.  She explained that school in Mali is hard for students because it is conducted in French, whereas Bambara is the language spoken in the home, so students often have a very hard understanding the subjects they learn in school. They are forced to just memorize things, without ever truly understanding what it is they are repeating. And even though they spend 12 years in school speaking French, many students who take the Bac at the end of their high school career can still not express themselves well in French.

I had heard that some schools are now starting to teach in Bambara, so I asked Assou about this.  She said that public schools do now teach the first few years of school exclusively in Bambara, but she actually didn’t think this was good because French is a much more useful language for advancing in your career or studies, and so children who do not start learning French at a young age will be even further behind.  She thinks the biggest problem is that the teachers are not well trained, and also that students, and Malians in general, are lazy.  She included herself in that category, saying that Malians are always tired, but are never actually doing anything.  In her opinion, the older generation of Malians are much better educated because they were taught by the French colonialists.

When I told her that we don’t really have strikes in the United States, she was a little surprised, but then said that yes, “those Americans over there are serious.”  This is an opinion I’ve heard from other people too, who say that Americans work hard, and that when they decide to do something they just do it and don’t waste time getting started.  Overall, I think it’s a difficult situation because until students have well-trained, engaging teachers they will not be interested in putting a lot of effort into their studies.  In addition, I imagine many students become discouraged and think that it’s not worth finishing their studies because it may still be hard to find a job when they finish, or more often, they need to start working right away in order to support themselves and their family.

One other interesting thing about Malian universities is that not only do you not have to pay to attend, but you can actually get scholarships that will provide you with a stipend while you are in school.  I think that the only criteria for these scholarships are that you maintain certain grades.

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