A Discussion with Eloia Amélia Rangeiro, Teacher, St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School, Tete, Mozambique
June 21, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in June 2017 undergraduate student Harshita Nadimpalli interviewed Eloia Amélia Rangeiro, a history teacher at St. Ignatius of Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundaria Inácio de Loiola, ESIL). ESIL is a Jesuit secondary school that primarily serves disadvantaged rural students. Rangeiro discusses measures ESIL can take to better serve its students. She also addresses students' experiences and the challenges students face at ESIL.
Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community at ESIL?
My name is Eloia Rangeiro. This is my second year that I’m here and I teach history. I am from Maputo. I studied in Pedagogical University (Universidade Pedagógica) in Maputo.
And what do you think differentiates a Jesuit education and separates it from other schools that may be secular or government schools?
From what I have seen it is very different. First, it is connected to a religious congregation. So the attention is different from public and private schools. It is connected to the priests, so their focus is different, and they are concerned with individual education; not just the formal education of the students, but also social education. And they want to know about the situations and families of their students. The education is different because there [in other schools] they are not as preoccupied with the family situations of the students. They might be concerned with it, but it isn’t given as much importance as it is here or in other schools connected with priests.
And how is the teaching different?
In other schools that are not Jesuit the director is not always checking on the teachers so they teach how they want. Sometimes they might not show up to classes, and here it’s not like that.
What do you think are the biggest challenges or opportunities that indigenous students face in the local education systems?
Here in this region a big challenge has to do with their own language. It is difficult to involve the students, each with their own languages from their provinces, and then the official language of Portuguese. It’s difficult. It is a challenge that is different from the big cities, where they have more opportunities and they also speak Portuguese fluently. Here, the mother tongue makes it a little difficult for the progression of students. I don’t speak Chichewa.
Do you have examples from your classes that show this difficulty in learning Portuguese?
In the eighth grade, I have students that come and ask what we did in the past class. Some can’t come tell me their name—if I ask them their name [in Portuguese] they don’t understand that to tell me their name. But if they are asked in the mother tongue, they can answer.
So with this language barrier you’ve mentioned, how do you try to resolve this in your classes?
I don’t ask other students to translate because they are not permitted to speak the mother tongue during classes. I try to push the students to speak during class to see who can speak.
And how does ESIL try to resolve the language challenge as a school?
I think the main thing we need to do is to give reinforcement classes to the students after the normal classes. Give a test where they have to translate something to Portuguese. I don’t know if this will help, but we can try. The past year we had really big challenges with the Portuguese language, but we have improved.
Did this same problem exist in schools you attended?
Not as much, in the cities. In the rural areas like this the problem exists. It’s because the primary education until seventh grade or so is bilingual here sometimes, with the mother tongue and Portuguese. I believe that the fact that sometimes they come to eighth or ninth grade without being able to speak [in Portuguese] is influenced by this. It’s official and happens in rural areas, but not in cities.
Do you think there is a resistance by the students to learning Portuguese?
I think so. I think there is some resistance because their own language is really linked to their own culture. Their parents sometimes also can’t speak Portuguese, and even in the boarding school they [the students] continue to speak [the mother tongue] so there is some resistance. To stop speaking their mother tongue and only speak in Portuguese would be difficult.
Is there a difference between the Portuguese language skills of the students who live in the boarding house and those who live outside?
There is a difference. But the bigger difference is that the boarding students have a better assimilation of the material and have better grades because they have more time to study, with mandatory study time. Their conditions help them.
How would you define social justice?
Social justice—here in Mozambique—I think that justice is not a certain equality or not equality for everyone. There are differences. For example in Mozambique it has to do with the social power that each person or institution has. It is not equal for all. The laws are not for all, and they don’t cover each person the same way. With power, justice is one thing. Without power, justice is another thing.
How would you define it [social justice] in the context of education?
Everyone having the same opportunities. For example, in accessing the national system of education, higher education. Everyone has the same power to access these, as well as the primary education that is free for all. So there has to be equality in access and then it depends on the capacities of the person to get to different levels.
How do you think you can personally contribute to the development of this community here at ESIL for the students, since you live here in the teachers’ boarding house and can have more contact with them?
Personally, I think I am here and it’s possible to help the students and the community by participating more in the lives of the students and having contact with their parents who are in charge of their education. So I can get to know their problems, because it’s not just giving classes to the student and academic formation, but also social formation. If a student gets low grades, it might not just be poor studying, but the student might have some social problem. So in this area, the teacher can get closer to the student and learn more about their lives and the social problems that they face that might cause them to abandon their studies if they are really negative. So the relationship with my own students.
Can you share a personal story or reason with me of why you chose to work in education?
First, when I did my training, I wanted to study psychology, but either educational or child psychology. I would like to work with children. But it was difficult to learn some areas, so I decided on education, because I would like to work with children.
Can you share with me a moment that inspired you in your time here at ESIL?
I like when I attended the Portuguese classes of another teacher. I learned that I would have to teach Portuguese too, so I learned a base from him and different forms of teaching that. I attended one of his classes and the methodologies that he used and the manner of explanation inspired me a lot more to have the power to overcome the many great challenges to overcome [in teaching Portuguese] in the way that he taught. The involvement of his students, the attention he looked for from his students, and I think he is one of the best teachers. Other teachers even come to see his classes.
What were some challenges you faced here or in your past that allowed you to improve your work here as a teacher?
A big challenge was last year when I taught a Portuguese class. It was…I can’t say…it showed me that the teacher has the ability to pass on something that you don’t learn in training. Because I did not learn to teach Portuguese, but I am able to study and improve some aspects. It is possible to give a class in something else, and as a professor you have to be open to learning each day.
Do you teach history to all of the students?
No, just to the eighth, ninth, and tenth grade classes.
How did the colonial past and the colonial war affect this area? The political landscape, the landscape of education and social justice, and the communities here. Also, if you have personal experience about how it affected your family, I would love to hear about that as well.
The colonial education affected Africans because they did not have many opportunities to study or teach besides when it was related to a religious institution. So this is one way it has affected the development of Mozambique. They didn’t have the opportunity to study and assimilate, and get a higher education.
How did the civil war affect this area? The political landscape, the landscape of education and social justice, and the communities here.
During this war too, institutions didn’t function. It is difficult for institutions to function and education was destroyed. It was impossible for students to study, and if they did it was at home and not through the system. So this set back the education of our own fathers.
How did it affect your family and community in the city of Maputo?
Maputo is a city—my family did not have to flee.
Do you think the effects of the civil war still affect the students here today?
Here, it did affect a lot. Not in the school. But in the regions close by, because there was a lot of destruction of hospitals nearby, and people here had to flee from attacks. They fled to the village, and this is one of the reasons many of them didn’t study.
Do you think the situation is stable now?
I think it is a lot more secure. Based on the news we have had, and the accords that have been made, I believe that it is more secure, and I trust the stability a bit more.
What do you think that ESIL can do to continue to improve? Two or three specific things.
I believe that we can help the students who don’t live in the boarding school more. Many of them come from far and the majority live in Njalanjira, which is a little bit distant. So if they can in some form help them…the students who come in the morning leave around 12:10 p.m. [for lunch] to their homes and have to return the distance again after; that is difficult. If we can help them some way, give them a snack and lunch, so they don’t have to go all the way home, that could help. I think it would improve their grades.
The level of our school—it needs to be improved. Sometimes the students want to drink water and they can’t [because the school building doesn’t have reliable running water access], and they have to be late to class because they had to go to the boarding house to get water.
We are growing. It’s only been two years.
If you could change the education system in the country without any limitation, what are two or three things you would improve?
I’ll start with continuing a bilingual education that they have in the primary school. Maybe in the higher education such as secondary school and university, they can have different language classes if they can. Not so much in primary school. I believe it would help improve the grades of our students a lot. They don’t know how to communicate in Portuguese.
What programs or activities exist here on weekends, or what other ideas do you have, in which ESIL tries to promote the expression of Chichewa culture in school?
I think there aren’t a lot, but they are promoted here in the school. Through games [soccer], sports, playing with teams outside of this region, are cultural experiences that aid in their formation that isn’t academic but helps them discover their talents. Through poetry, they can learn to speak Portuguese well, for example.
Having a cinema is another idea. It would be good. Films, and things like that, which are more cultural.
What do you see as the future role of Jesuit education in this region and this country?
I believe that the Jesuit congregation—the school here resembles a school, and others such as the ones that exist in Maputo are seminaries. This is the only Jesuit school here in this region. I believe it can go to other regions of the country. I think that would be really good in helping our own education system. It is a secondary school, and this is the only one in the area. We are waiting for a differential education—it is more of a community school and was created by priests. There is greater education.
The teaching here is different from the students and teaching at other schools. The professors are more invested in their own students, and not in their own direction, but with the students. This is really good. The education is excellent.
How did it affect other small villages in the surrounding area?
I think it has—for example, with Njalanjira. It has had a much greater development because of the students there that are from here and study here but live there. For example, the items they sell here for students are not the same as for the professors. So there has definitely been some type of development.
Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?
Looking at your theme—education and social justice, education is there, but social justice is not equal for all. I think there is a lot more to be done still in Mozambique on the level of social justice.
What is the connection between education, religion, and social justice, in your opinion?
Looking at the level of religion, when a person is inside a religion they are more just. So looking at this point of view, I believe that social justice will exist more and be more equal for all.