A Discussion with Tony, Portuguese Professor at St. Ignatius 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 Tony, a Portuguese professor at St. Ignatius Loyola Secondary School (Escola Secundária Inácio de Loyola, ESIL) in Tete, Mozambique. Tony discusses the preservation of local cultures through language and customs at the school, as well as the logistics of teaching classes in Portuguese. He also explains the impact of the colonial period and the civil wars on the language and education system of Mozambique.
Can you please tell me your name and about what your role is in this community at ESIL?
My name is Tony, and I am a Portuguese professor here in ESIL. I have been here for two years. I did my bachelor’s degree in Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo.
And what do you think differentiates a Jesuit education and separates it from other schools that may be secular or government schools? Do you have examples to show this? How does the Jesuit education affect the culture and mentality of the youth here?
A comparative analysis—I think that what the school has that other schools don’t have is commitment. The commitment to the formation of the students, professional and human. For me that is a big difference because the school gives individual attention to this formation. For example, in addition to the classes that everyone has, the curriculum also focuses more on extracurricular activities that are not just academic but are activities that are developed on the local level—for example, the part of culture. This school tries to train the students on the cultural level. Sports, also. Also a training in relation to others and the school values, creating a way for students who don’t display good behavior with others to create a regulation to fix this behavior. It doesn’t mandate that they have a religious formation, but it gives them this possibility. This means that this religious aspect is always an opportunity; there are mission-related activities, and we value study of the mission and are interested in spiritual formation.
What are some specific cultural activities you have here to preserve the culture?
For example, we have dances in which the dances that should be presented are Mozambican and local dances. Nyuau is a typical dance here that is prohibited. There is also another dance that we do here that is prohibited. Training with both boys and girls. And lastly, preserving the local language. A project that maybe is being implemented in classes, but there is a necessity to preserve the local language. These are all important elements in preserving culture.
Can you speak more about local languages?
For example, here it is Cinyanja. The concept of mother tongue is that it is the one we learn to speak from our mothers. Many learn Cinyanja at home, and it is their first language. Cinyanja and Chichewa are the same language. Here it is the language that is spoken a lot in Tsangano and Angonia, and also in Moatize. It is the mother tongue of many people. Preserving this language signifies preserving the mother tongue that many people speak in the northern zone of the province of Tete. I speak Chichewa.
In school, do you think there is a difference between teachers who speak Chichewa and can explain in it to students if needed and those who don’t?
Yes. For the teachers that are here, not all of them are Cinyanja speakers. There are people who come from Manica, Sofala, Maputo…they don’t speak it and are also just learning Chichewa or Cinyanja. So it would be difficult if teachers used the mother tongue of Chichewa in classes.
Do you have examples of students who have had difficulty speaking Portuguese in your classes?
Yes, there are various ones. There are students who I believe can’t answer questions in Portuguese because they don’t understand what the question means. We have many examples of students in eighth grade, for example, who have a problem with the Portuguese language, but if you translate it to Cinyanja, they are capable of saying the answer. If we say, “a small tree,” for example, or the diminutive of a tree, they don’t understand what the diminutive is. But if you say “a small tree” in Cinyanja, they can tell you what you ask. There are cases like this where the concept may be a little difficult [in Portuguese], but if the students uses a bit of Cinyanja it is easier. There is a danger, however, if the professor gets used to not using Portuguese.
There is a preconceived notion that Cinyanja or other local languages during the colonial period were not considered languages. They were not languages. They were languages of monkeys and cows. So this does not create a good mentality. If a child spoke Cinyanja, people thought he couldn’t study. People who spoke Cinyanja for a long time were not considered. They were always seen as unable to study. So there has to be a reconceptualization that both are languages [Cinyanja and Portuguese], and both can be used to study and both can be complementary. It has to be done.
Do you think there is a resistance on the parts of the students to learning the Portuguese language?
No, I don’t think so. Because the resistance might exist. But students of Portuguese—they have a tendency to speak their mother tongue because they are accustomed to it—but not because they have this intention.
Do you think there is a difference between boarding students and traveling students in their Portuguese abilities?
I think so. In their grades. Why? Because the students who live in the boarding house feel in some moments a bit obligated [to speak Portuguese] because there is always someone telling them to speak Portuguese. External students do not have anybody pressuring them, and very few people there [where they live] speak Portuguese. So there is a difference.
How does memory of the colonial past and the colonial and civil wars affect this area and the landscape of education here?
The colonial period was a time of total oppression—everything related to the natives. Language was also under this same oppression for a long time. The owners of the language and the speakers of language also began to not use their own language. Because if you didn’t speak Portuguese, there was no job. Only minimum service. So the language was Portuguese for a long time and created a dependence for these two reasons: that Portuguese was the only one that was used, and that Portuguese was the official language. Mozambique has more than 42 languages. So it would not be possible to pick one to use in all of Mozambique. So what did they choose? The language of the colonizer. Everyone was obligated to learn this language, and it had a supreme importance as the only language of teaching and the language of communication on the national level. This created a lack of equilibrium between [Portuguese and] other languages during the colonial time. This was going to have an effect in some way on education. Education would be totally in Portuguese.
Then there was the civil war. In this moment we had Portuguese as the official language. It was true that there was a force for the language of Maputo to be made official, but this led to ethnic misunderstanding: [for example,] I am from Tsangano, [so] why can’t my language be made the official language? So this [attempt to change the language] was eliminated. During the civil war, education was really affected. Schools only ran in the cities. In this zone, of the villages, and in all zones, nobody lived there. Education and schools were destroyed for the most part. Many youth were recruited for obligatory military service. They were discouraged to attend school and distanced themselves from it, because if they went out to school there was a high chance they would be recruited [for military service]. Above all, this affected boys. Girls too, but mostly boys. Unless people went abroad, education was difficult. Teachers are not ones who were trained, but ones who know how to speak Portuguese and then give classes. So until this happens, until a moment of peace, such as 1992, there was a return of youth to schools. There are kids who are 14 or 15 years old who are in the first grade—this is really difficult with the divergence of grades, and it prejudices the system against them.
How did these wars affect rural areas more than cities?
The first thing was that schools in these zones were closed. They couldn’t function because professors were persecuted and had to flee to Malawi or Zimbabwe, so schools stayed closed. In villages, schools existed, but there weren’t many students there, because villages had schools with just mainly kids of professors and police, and the rest had fled to Malawi. So there was little education in this period.
Do you think there is still an impact of this today on the students?
No, I don’t think it still does. But in the past year for example, it wasn’t a war, but a small conflict; it affected them because schools were closed, and people couldn’t continue to study and had to stop. Teachers had to leave and abandon schools. So it affected them. But there is also an effect on higher education. Because this takes away that possibility—if we don’t have basics because people have to leave during war, there cannot be higher education.
What are other ways that you think culture and language here—Chichewa—can be preserved?
These languages survive through orality. So I think the first thing that should be done is writing a lot in these languages. There are very few books and movies. There has to be a great force to write, because this will create a motivation for people to write. If there is a Cinyanja dictionary, like the one which was created by a priest, Cinyanja-Portuguese, they will be more comfortable in describing words in local languages and registering information from the languages. Dictionaries, books, proverbs, stories...the first thing is writing. The second is to have a policy that isn’t as obligatory in these languages. For example, bilingual education is something that is still being experimented with and not concrete. (Not here, but other schools.) I think this can be an incentive for many schools because it is a way of valorizing these languages, and it can incentivize the preservation of languages. ESIL can be an example to other schools—it’s possible.
Do you think students would be receptive to a bilingual education?
I don’t think so—I think at first they would think it is something ridiculous because they already speak [Chichewa]. I think the impact of these classes might make them value their language more above a superficial appreciation. Not just knowing Cinyanja, but using Cinyanja to learn. It would not be a class to learn Cinyanja, but learning Portuguese through Cinyanja. To learn how to say something in Portuguese that you already know in Cinyanja. For this, I think there is value. I think at first they might think it is a joke. But they speak, but they don’t write much or don’t write stories. Afterwards they’ll see the importance.
Do you think students who don’t speak Chichewa will be left out?
No—I think there needs to be an understanding that there is a majority. Are we putting Cinyanja above other languages?—no. Just giving an opportunity to learn.
What does social justice mean for you?
To me social justice is an equality of rights and duties within a community. Last term in Maputo there was a debate between students and some politicians, and the same thing that happens in the city happens here. For example, there was a judge that did not speak Cinyanja. Imagine that he had to judge a case with a person who doesn’t speak Portuguese. It is natural that there are people who don't speak Portuguese. So they would have to use an interpreter. But this interpreter—what is his relation to the person being represented? It could be good or bad. Then the judge will work [indirectly] from the information received from the interpreter. So there is a need to incorporate these local languages in the process of social justice. It is one example that explains the interference of language in social justice.
And here, the nykwawa, or local chiefs, have studied and know how to speak Portuguese, but they know how to resolve local problems in Cinyanja. Because they have to use the language that is known by everyone. I think that we can’t put local languages outside in this process of social justice. Preservation of these languages is also social justice. I think there is a damage to them, and they need to be restored.
How do you think you can personally contribute to the social justice vision of this school?
A direct impact is difficult to note because we’re in the process of training. But I think the policies of the school now and in the future, with the students arm in arm, can have an impact on social justice. We know how society is supposed to work. But we are not working for this society. There is a divergence between who we are and what we want to teach. For a concrete example, I said that we don’t want a corrupt society. But professors let students pay to pass their classes. This school has a zero tolerance for this. Nobody talks or even experiments with such a thing. So it has created a mentality in the students that is not possible here to do that. So these are the small things the school is doing. Zero tolerance for drugs, zero tolerance for prostitution, zero tolerance for stealing, zero tolerance for corruption, which contributes to the formation of a just society here. These are small points that makes a difference. And professors have to be there as an example.
Why did you choose to work in education?
In truth I wanted to be a journalist when I was younger. But when I finished high school, I went for obligatory military service in Mozambique for two years, and after that, someone asked me during that time to give explanations to the children of one of my military commanders—one child in seventh grade and another in tenth. When they showed me an ability and attention, and there were results, they sent me more kids, and when there came a moment when I had to leave and mobilize for defense, they asked me to stay. So that’s why I trained to be a professor—personal motivation.
Can you share with me a moment that inspired you in your time here at ESIL?
I think a moment was when I had to give a speech about a topic. I was asked to give a talk on the topic of peace—to contextualize it and talk about peace in the country. I didn’t know much about it, but it was a time of a lot of political tension in the country. When the day came I gave my presentation, and I was really impressed by how the children were giving me attention and listening. They were silent and attentive, and it was a surprise. There was not a single noise when I was talking. They only spoke when I asked them to. So in the end it was clear that everyone enjoyed it, and they all talked to me after, the director and the students, and I had not hoped that it would be so good. The students showed me they all liked it, and this was a moment that motivated me a lot and made me more comfortable talking in front of other people. It was great.
If you could change the education system without any limitation, what are some things you would change about the education system in the country?
First would be primary education. They start there by passing students who do have qualifications to pass the classes. Because there is a demand from higher levels to present quantitative percentages of students of students who pass rather than base it on qualitative data [of performance]. They pass students because they need [at least] 60 percent to pass. For me, this has to change. Students should pass—100 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent—in accordance with the qualifications they have. Another aspect maybe is the level or form of evaluation and admission. I don’t think there is much seriousness in this process, and there should be more applied vigilance and control because the passing marks that are produced by students—I feel like in centers of testing some professors take the tests for the students, and there is corruption. I think it should be very well verified and a way to end this [the corruption]. Also there should be something done about the training for teachers. I think the training should be more, and right now it’s not good enough. There should be a bit more invested in this. Also there should be more materials and resources in schools.
What do you think will be the future of Jesuit education in this region and country?
I don’t think it should be influenced by history. History tells us one thing. In reality we have parents and professors. I think that it is a better alternative, continuing in the manner that we have done. There is a difference in many aspects. It is the only school that worries about forming the man as a whole and not just academically—in helping the person make a difference in society. The impact will be better. I hope that it makes a difference. I know that myself, I am maybe an example of this. If I had worked in another school, I wouldn’t be myself; I would be a different person.
Do you have any other comments you would like to share?
I think maybe speaking a bit about language. These languages have many influences, of internal languages and external European languages—there is a mixture. As a result, there is a similar vocabulary, and there is always something in common. This facilitates people from different ethnicities, and it is important that different people give value to education. There is a necessity that we value and incentivize the professor, and professors also have to be self-motivated. Here we work all together, and we understand that the school works because of us.