Until last week my job has been very unglamorous (well, even now it’s only slightly less unglamorous). I’m sure many people back home have an image of me walking through thatch-roofed villages or sitting in open-air classrooms with cute little African children clambering all over me. The truth is I spend most days sitting at a desk working on a computer in a second-floor office near the central plaza in downtown Beira. I do research about corruption online (yes, we have wireless in our office) and plan field research. I feel like I’m back in Brighton working on my dissertation.
My dissertation last year had been about tackling sexual abuse in schools in Mozambique as that is one form of corruption in schools. Originally, in coming here, I had thought there would be more emphasis on this form of corruption. However, my research is currently focused more on financial corruption, specifically on using bribes to obtain a place in school.
Last week I started school visits both to introduce myself to the directors of schools in which Oasis works and also to interview directors about the registration process. The academic year in Mozambique is from January/February until November, so the past two weeks have been registration time. Here is an illustration of how the system works:
At one of the five secondary schools in Beira the director explained that there are 240 places for incoming 8th graders from 3 nearby primary schools. The city director compiles a list of students from the three schools who may enrol in this particular secondary school. For example, there are 88 places for students from M. Primary School. But 700 students graduated from that primary school! The 88 are chosen from the 700 based on age, marks, and whether they are children of teachers at the secondary school. If a student doesn’t make the list, he or she may enrol in a private school, which is obviously out the question for many students who cannot afford it. Or they attend evening classes. Officially, students must be at least 18 to attend evening classes, but we spoke to a couple directors at other schools who said they allow any age to attend evening classes. Each teacher is also given two places in their classes for family members. However, teachers don’t always have school-aged family members…
After we met with the director of this secondary school, we bumped into a friend of one of my colleagues who was at the school trying to enrol his cousin. The cousin was not on any of the three primary school lists. However, a teacher was selling his two family places for 1,500 meticais ($60) each. That’s an extraordinary amount of money, especially considering official tuition fees are $5. My colleague’s friend could not afford that, but there will be someone who wants to study badly enough who will rake up the money (or steal it – theft is high during school registration time).
Last year another missionary called my colleague to discuss what one should do in a situation where someone asks for money to buy a place in school. The missionary was close to a family who wanted to send their son to school, but he was not on the enrolment list. Do you say, “No, I can’t participate in corruption and will not pay a bribe,” thus preventing the child from receiving an education? Or do you say, “Even though this is corrupt, I will buy the place in school so that this child can receive an education.”? This is the type of question we battle with on a daily basis. There are no easy answers.
Unfortunately, there is such a shortage of secondary teachers. But more cannot be trained unless they graduate from secondary school! And because it is a poor country, there is not money in the budget to pay teachers. And one of the reasons corruption does exist in schools is because teachers are not being paid enough. But privatizing education, which would help with teacher salaries and resources, would marginalize poor students further. I could go on and on.
There are no easy answers.