A Discussion with Chinyama, English and Physics Professor at St. Ignatius Loyola Secondary School, Tete, Mozambique
June 18, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in June 2017 undergraduate student Harshita Nadimpalli interviewed Chinyama, an English and physics professor at St. Ignatius Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundária Inácio de Loyola, ESIL) in Tete, Mozambique. ESIL is a Jesuit secondary school that primarily serves disadvantaged rural students. Chinyama describes the school's lack of teaching materials and how he works with limited resources as a professor, as well as challenges that boarding and non-boarding students face at the school. He explains how professors at the Jesuit institution give students more individual attention than do professors at public schools. He also discusses the impact of Mozambique's colonial past and the civil wars on the education system and learning opportunities.
Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community at ESIL?
First, my name is Chinyama, and I lecture in the disciplines of English and physics. I have been in education for 10 years, but this is my first year at this school. I have been at five other different schools, and this is my sixth school. I taught math in other schools and was trained in English at a middle level and in physics at a higher level. All of the other schools I have taught at were public schools. I am from Angonia, so I speak Chichewa, and read and write it.
And what do you think differentiates a Jesuit education and separates it from other public schools? Do you have specific examples to show this? How does the Jesuit education affect the culture and mentality of the youth here?
According to my experience in 10 years I have taught everything—in a primary school, secondary school, and everything in between. The difference that I noticed in public schools from here is something small—in public schools, teachers and students have a different manner of working from here. In public schools, teachers have a lot of challenges because they have to work a lot with percentages. Some students know and others don’t, but they pass either way. If you have less than 70 percent, that’s not okay, and this demoralizes the professors. They do work with the averages and at the end of the term, they have to give the good results and not the bad ones. Because this is a Jesuit school, we work with the quality of each person. If a student produces a four [out of 20] then they will have a four, and we will work with that to help them improve. If a student produces a 12 or a 20, we will work with that reality of the student. This incentivizes the student to study more. But in public schools it weakens this. A student there might get a five, but in the report it says 12. And then another student who gets a 12 also has a 12. So they ask, why do I study so much more for this 12 if I am just going to get the same grade at the end of the term? It demotivates the students.
In the eighth grade, many students don’t know how to read or express themselves in Portuguese. But now in the second trimester they are responding better without problems. In the beginning they used to try to just copy, but now they are writing without as much of a problem because they have been pushed to advance. This is why the teaching in public schools is at a lower level. Here, they pass because they know, not because they were pushed through.
What do you think are distinct challenges that indigenous students face in the local education systems?
In public schools in high schools that I have passed through, the challenges are enormous because of the lack of books in the schools, and the lack of laboratories. A student can only study the theory, but there is no way for them to gain a more profound understanding. Especially with physics, they perceive the theory but they don’t have practice. This is a problem I have seen in public schools, but I think this school is trying to improve because they are constructing a laboratory now. The library has many books to deepen a student’s understanding outside of the classroom. So for me this is a positive point for this school.
I think there is also a lack of individual attention of professors being close to students. The classrooms are really fully with a high number of students, maybe 60. For a professor to know who is weaker or who is stronger is difficult. This is a problem in both public and community schools. In a classroom with maybe 20 or 30 students, then it is more possible for the professor to see the student’s way of thinking and understand their rhythm, but to do this in a classroom of 60 students to see if everyone has understood everything is impossible.
When a student is selected to talk in class, it is like he is unlucky, but then the next five classes or maybe the whole term he can go without speaking again. He can speak once the entire term. And this does not have a positive influence in acquiring knowledge. There has to be a control of writing, speaking, listening, and reading. It will be difficult for professors to control this with so many students—and they have classes in both the morning and afternoon. And in some schools, it is in the morning, afternoon, and night. It is tiring.
In my classes we also have the challenge of a lack of books. For example in the eighth grade we have two books: a manual one for me and one for the students. In each class there is 50 students—how are we supposed to distribute this to everyone? It’s difficult. And it’s expensive to make 50 copies. At least if we can have one copy for each desk with two students to share, they can see what we are talking about and reading in class and how to pronounce words, for example. It’s difficult, this lack of books. Same with when we give homework to them to do—how are they going to do it? They have to go to the library and see the homework, but there are always students who end up not being able to have access to it, because the book was borrowed by someone else at the time.
Can you think of specific ways that students struggle with the Portuguese language in your classes?
It is a great challenge—because treating Portuguese as the second language, since here they use their mother tongue, Chichewa, it is difficult. For example, at the beginning of the day, I will see a student and they greet me with “Bom dia,” because they are my morning students. But if I see the same students in the afternoon, they still greet me with “Bom dia, senhor professor” and I have to correct them that it isn’t “Bom dia,” but it is “Boa tarde” now. In the schools that they came from and where they completed their primary education, there they all only speak Chichewa amongst themselves. So speaking in Portuguese is only in the classroom with their professor, and at home too with their parents they speak Chichewa. So it becomes a bit difficult. Now that they are with us they are trying to improve their Portuguese a bit. In the boarding house too, though, they speak Chichewa. So to construct an understanding of Portuguese will be difficult, but they will improve over time, because I see in the eleventh and twelfth grades they speak Portuguese to each other without a problem.
What are opportunities that students have in local education systems?
On the part of the students, they need to adopt a system of maybe prohibiting students from speaking the mother tongue to cultivate Portuguese. They have to speak either Portuguese or English—they both have the same function. There needs to be a way to reinforce Portuguese, because without it, students converse however they want and mostly speak Chichewa amongst themselves, which makes it difficult for them to improve their own Portuguese. In other schools, nobody speaks Chichewa outside of class even, and if they do they inform the teacher about each other and receive a punishment. After classes we should have activities that they have to do if they are caught speaking Chichewa—then when they are in these activities and all of their friends are at home, they’ll think, “Okay, tomorrow I will speak Portuguese so I don’t have to do this again.” This would incentivize a student a lot to speak Portuguese. And they can use their mother tongues at home.
So with these challenges you’ve mentioned, how does ESIL try to resolve them?
In my point of view, a professor has to be creative. In this case, for example, I have one manual and 50 students. I digitalize some texts on the computer so I can select one text that has a lot of grammar I have lectured on, and then digitalize it and produce it for at least half of the class, about 25 copies, and they can read it and then return it to me to keep. So at the end of the trimester I still have it to use again for the next trimester. That way we are not wasting resources of the school. At least each student needs to be able to have access to the text in some way. But I have already spoken with the director that we can try to multiply the texts for the students. My laptop also has a problem so we are trying to fix that.
With the challenge of language, for English, I don’t have a problem with my students in the classroom because they try to contribute and speak English. I think they don’t have good grammar, but if we have more grammar resources in the library and English books, the students can better understand how verbs are used and better see how English is commonly used. Grammar is the key to understand how to use a certain language. Dictionaries and books and novels can help that. And helping them develop their listening is also good—if in class they can understand English from the radio or through a recording that they have to evaluate after listening to. Each person notes down what they heard, and then they try to see what the essential information they got from it is.
Do you think there is a difference between the professors who speak Chichewa and those who don’t?
No, there isn’t. Because if there was a necessity to translate to Chichewa, it would be a problem, since the teaching has to be in Portuguese. In the classes the proper thing is to not speak in the local language. So I don’t think it’s a challenge if you don’t speak the local language.
And what about between boarding students and external students?
Yes, there is. Let’s look at a boarding student first—in the morning they wake up and do some cleaning work or work in the fields, have breakfast, and then get ready for school, and then have lunch, and then have some other activity. If they have doubts they ask a friend or something. If there was a possibility they can also ask their professors for help during the obligatory study hours to give them an explanation or clear up some doubts. They have time to study with their friends.
But when we look at external students, it’s a huge challenge. Because many of them are not natives of here, and they live in Njalanjira and rent there. They don’t have light there, and they wake up and come to school, and have to go back to cook lunch, and then come back here to school, and then go back home, They don’t have time or energy to study because they have to cook and do everything on their own. So this has a negative influence on the students. The students who live in the boarding house have better grades than those who live outside.
There was one student who didn’t speak or respond anything in my classes [the external students], and then when she started living in the boarding house she started participating in class and responding, asking about her doubts, etc. So there was an improvement when she came to the boarding house.
How is ESIL involved with the community in the area surrounding ESIL?
There is a connection—there is a president who presides over it, and whenever someone in the community has a question or a problem with students or teachers, the president will bring this worry to the school to improve the situation. So this is the connection. But I don’t know if this exists at this school. But this is really essential. There should be a correspondence between the community and the school.
What do you think is the attitude and reception of people in this district to ESIL?
According to the analysis that was done, I think that the community receives the school with two hands. There is no problem. They felt a sort of relief because they see the students, here and there is no other high school near here. It was more work for them to have to go drop their kids in Tsangano, for example, at the school, alone, and that was difficult. But with the arrival of this school they don’t have to worry.
What does social justice mean for you in the context of the school?
It’s difficult to find a justice. For example with the students who live outside, they suffer and are persecuted and suffer from robberies. For these students who live in the community, it is not just. There are others in the community who receive these students as if they were their students, in communities such as Njalanjira, but there are others who don’t. For professors, when we want to buy something, the communities charge an elevated price because they think we are professors and receive a lot of money. But they’ll sell the same cup to a student for a lower price.
In education I think justice is that students receive the scores they earn, but in most schools this doesn’t happen and teachers require money for you to pass, and if you don’t pay, you won’t pass, so justice doesn’t exist always. It’s not all professors, but some.
What is the relationship between education, social justice, development, and religion, and which of these is the most important to you in your work?
There is a connection in that each depends on the other. Education is the key to everything. Knowing how to read the Bible and interpret it well depends on school. And for you to know your rights and duties, that depends on school. And development also depends on school because it is a negotiation, and if you didn’t go to school, you won’t be able to do this. To be a entrepreneur and depend on the state or depend on yourself—school is the center of everything, for the church, religion, and development.
Where do you think you can personally contribute to the social justice vision of the school?
A professor is a facilitator of knowledge. So I think in your classes you should at least talk about something that can incentivize students to treat others in a good way, and teach a good way of being, and also satisfy the student’s worries. The student and the manner in which they grow and their mentality in conversing and relating to others and how to solve problems [is something I can contribute to]. The more people who communicate and speak to each other, the less social problems we will have. In primary schools there is a civic moral education, with topics such as how to treat your peers and grandparents, and I think that this should be continued in high schools also in order to construct a new society with a good mentality.
Can you share with me a personal story about why you chose to work in education?
Since my primary school, I wanted to be a teacher. Because I always liked sharing the knowledge I had with others. And I thought that the little I knew, I could share with others so that at a minimum I could transmit some knowledge to others that they would have for the rest of their lives. Education for me has more value because of this. A teacher is always learning, in the way they are preparing their classes and innovating, so each day you are studying something new. So in the 36 years you might work, you will gain some deeper knowledge that you can share with other Mozambicans to pass on to those ahead of them.
Can you share with me a moment that inspired you?
Sometimes we are inspired by others. I saw that my fifth grade teacher was a really good teacher, and I learned to read Portuguese in the third grade. The same teacher who taught me first grade also taught me second and third and all the way to fifth grade. It was a good process in which as you developed you saw a good relationship with that teacher, and he was able to understand how I perceived the material and adapted the class to this. He was a good inspiration of how to be a good teacher, and this showed me that if I was a teacher I wanted to be like this. He explained all my doubts and was very open. Whether you failed or not failed, he was always there and explained how things should be, and [he encouraged us] that we were almost there. This teacher helped me a lot, and in my classes also I use more participation of the students, and the students are always free to comment or express their doubts that they don’t understand. I satisfy all of their doubts. [My teacher] always obligated that we use Portuguese and I do the same, in explaining words in Portuguese that they don’t understand using other ways of explanation that they do understand.
What are some challenges you experienced in teaching that allowed you to improve your teaching and your commitment to education?
A teacher is a mirror of society, so when we are teaching we will always find challenges, and it is important to find how to overcome those. If there is a challenge, you can’t stop and say there is no solution. During my 10 years, I had challenges, but until today, I have always tried to solve these challenges. In other schools sometimes it was difficult to find materials, and today I use the internet to access materials and research and find information there that I can transmit to the students that is connected to the classes I am teaching. The internet doesn’t work well here so when we go to the village on the weekends I connect and find material. For English there is no problem, but for physics it is a bit more difficult. In the internet there is everything, and you have to select it according to the level of the student, depending on whether they are in eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade. So with the internet I am trying to overcome some of the lack of material.
How did the colonial past and the colonial war affect this area? The political landscape, education and social justice, the community here, and your family?
First to start, the black man during this time did not have the right to complete higher education in this time. He could only study until the fourth class. There were a few people who were closer to the whites, and they were able to maybe complete up until the eighth grade, but that was the limit. When the war surged, education was almost paralyzed. There was not much time to study; in this time schools were captured, and students in the schools aged 12 to 15 were captured to work in the military. Other youth were fugitives and had to flee to avoid being captured for the military. So in this way many people died and education was paralyzed. Only in cities, a few people studied, and in the rural areas, nobody studied because they fled to Malawi or Zimbabwe. For society, people lost children, uncles, grandparents, because it was possible they might return alive or dead, and this created a really low level of education and high illiteracy during the way. The development was really low because we didn’t produce anything. My family didn’t go to school, and many didn’t know how to read or write, because for example, my own grandparents had to flee to Zimbabwe during colonial times. When the war ended and they returned, the civil war surged, so they had to flee again to Malawi and there was no time to go to school or gain literacy. There was no possibility. They died without knowing any school. Today we are rebuilding.
How did the civil war affect this area? The political landscape, education and social justice, the community here, and your family?
This civil war also brought its damages. Many professors had to leave when it started and others had to join the military—same with the students. Schools were burned. Many had to flee to Malawi or Zimbabwe. Refugees’ children had access in Malawi and Zimbabwe to education. I was born here in 1984 and we fled to Malawi in 1988. So I grew up in Malawi from first to fourth grade until we returned back here. My father only completed up to the fourth grade. He chose to stop studying, and when he got married and started having children he had to rebuild when everything was burned. In this region, everything was burned. All of the houses. Everything was robbed and burned. Back then, there was no university anywhere except Maputo and Beira, but now there is one in Angonia, one in Tete. All of these privileges did not exist in the time of war. There were problems in education, development, and society. It was difficult to keep families together and have a family life. For example I didn’t know my grandparents, because they went to Zimbabwe and my parents went to Malawi, and they died in Zimbabwe without ever returning here. There is little family connection as a result.
Do you think there is still insecurity of war that students feel today?
In 1994 we ended the civil war and there wasn’t much problem. But lately such as the past year, there has been armed conflict in some sites. Schools were also closed down, about approximately 70 to 80 kilometers from here. So people fled their houses again for Malawi or the village and houses were burned down. So education was paralyzed [yet again], which is an indication of the effect of political conflict between the two parties. For now there is a silence, and we are giving classes.
How do you think ESIL can continue with the education of Portuguese without making it a cultural imposition?
We received Portuguese like a normal language. Not as that the owners of this language made us suffer. We lifted this as a language that serves as a connection between diverse people who speak different languages. For example if someone leaves from here to Maputo, they speak a different language. For us to communicate with each other [in our mother tongues] is a little difficult, but with Portuguese, it is easy. It makes it that I can know more people and more sites without problems. So we received Portuguese as something normal. It’s a mode of communication and union of diverse people of the different dialects of Mozambique. It facilitates communication.
And how can they preserve each individual culture in parallel with the teaching of Portuguese?
The preservation of culture on the part of the students is affected a bit by Portuguese. We have the history we study, of Mozambique, from first to tenth grade. We study the people and our own culture. So we learn our own cultures in Portuguese, and also the cultures of other sites, types of dance of different regions such as the center and south, so it allows for us to learn a bit of everything and not just our own culture, but others on the level of Mozambique also, and Portuguese allows the students to know the culture of other Mozambicans and perceive that better. It promotes the preservation of local culture from different regions of the country.
If you could change three things at ESIL and in Mozambique without limitation in the system of education, what would you change?
ESIL is not disconnected from the community. It is not isolated from the rest of Mozambique. The children who receive education and everything here are Mozambican. So I would like an initiative to work with seriousness on the availability of resources and books, for other schools too. So the quality of infrastructure and such demoralize the students from acquiring knowledge. So good construction, available materials, and everything will incentivize our own students to study comfortably. For Mozambique in general I think ESIL can contribute a lot because we are forming future professors, doctors, presidents, ministers, of Mozambique. So it will be beneficial for the whole country.
What do you see as the future role of Jesuit education in the country?
I think there is a great importance, because it reduces the worries of people where the school is located. For example, this school is benefiting the people who are here in this region. We have other areas, and in all cases these people that neighbor this area have more opportunity, and it promotes a good education and development of our country. I think it will be best for [Jesuit education] to continue and alleviate the burden of the government to create schools in all of Mozambique. I think it can reduce the index of illiteracy and underdevelopment that we face in the country.
Do you have any other comments to share with me?
For us to promote a good teaching of the Portuguese language or the English language, I think that it would be good that professors who teach these subjects have an exchange of information with professors from these countries who teach the same level and subject to better see where we can improve.