Monday, July 2, 2007

Myth #1 Education is the Key???

Myth #1 Education is the key??

Since my arrival in country I have had this constant nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that my work here is missing the point. That I am going to accomplish nothing during my whole two years. That what Senegal needs to help its citizens “develop,” is sweeping educational reform from the governmental level. That what Senegal needs is educational policy reform, and funding to implement it. Because all of the problems that I battle on a daily basis, and all of the health problems I see, at this point in my PC experience, all seem to stem from an overall lack of education, and especially a lack in the QUALITY OF EDUCATION.

The past couple of days the dirth in the educational system has been repeatedly been slapping me in the face. I am realizing more and more that even though many people do receive a basic level of education, that the quality of said education is just disheartening beyond belief.

There are a couple of myths that all were slammed in my face yesterday from “educated” individuals that just made my heart fall. And I’m not talking about health related practices passed on from grandmothers to daughters etc. Those are in a category of their own and are already widely agreed upon as a lack of adequate education.
(2 Examples include:
*Pregnant women should not eat eggs. Already with the lack of protein and vitamins in this diet, taking away one of the cheapest and most useful sources from women when they need it the most is really harmful.
*If you brush your teeth at night your mother will die. Needless to say, many people’s teeth are rotten and painful.)

But the few that were said to me yesterday mostly resulted FROM the educational system.

These things were presented to me as facts by various fairly well *educated* individuals in my community. First I’m going to list them and then I will explain each scenario in turn.

*Disclaimer: I realize that the term “educated” has many different meanings, and there are all different kinds of “education” and that you cannot measure it and blah blah blah, but I’m talking about the ‘conventional/Western’ definition of education (aka. Schooling).

1. That the United States has 52 states.

I was told by several sources that all children learned this in school and it’s drilled into their heads. I had to swear on my own life that there were only 50. I mean they were SO convinced that I almost doubted myself. I’m pretty sure they’re still wary that I’m wrong. At least I made some headway when I brought up the point that I am in fact American and I lived there my whole life and that I should know.

2. That Senegal is the poorest country in Africa after Ethiopia.

With this one I almost spit up my food. I guess I (wrongly) figured information concerning Africa would be correct. The worst part was that my sister totally does not believe me and we spent all of lunch arguing about it. I tried to explain the concept of GDP per capita, and how “poorest” is measured. And then I launched into an explanation about levels of development and various UN indicators, and that I even wrote my undergraduate thesis on Senegal’s developmental success as compared to the rest of West Africa ( for example Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Mauritania, Niger) Not to mention other countries like the Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Botswana (nearly 40% HIV prevalence among its adult population!), etc. etc. etc. I am determined to print out some concrete statistics from the UN website next week, but if she doesn’t know what the UN is….is she going to appreciate the source and trust the reference? I’m not banking on it.

3. That there are only 3 continents.

This one I actually won quite easily by listing them on my fingers and mentioning that I personally had been to 4 of them.

4. That Senegalese men NEED to be polygamous because there are so many more women than men… and if they didn’t have many wives then there would be too many women left out of marriage.

Now I understand that this one is a little more embedded in the culture. I’ve heard it many a time. I know that it’s not necessarily something that people learn in school…but they certainly don’t learn that it’s not true. The worst part is that one of the guys I was talking to goes “Well look, how many women are there in your house?” (because there are more women than men)…as if 1 household could prove his point.

The problem was that his argument was so void of any logic that it’s totally unarguable. And that was the most frustrating part. That you can’t argue with someone that doesn’t understand how to even analyze those kind of figures and can’t wrap his head around those ideas. And I got so flustered that I ended up getting way too technical and busted out all of my grad school population banter. I started blabbering on about how worldwide for every 100 baby girls born there are actually 105 baby boys, and that men often go abroad to work, and all the little boys are sent away to Koranic schools and that’s why there seem to be so many girls in the households in Senegal …etc etc.
(In case you’re wondering….yes, I did this all in Pulaar!! Hooray for me!)

The most ridiculous part about his whole conversation is that I was literally the only woman and I was sitting around on mats with at least 15 middle aged married men.

At that point I realized they really didn’t care to believe otherwise so I put on a big smile and said “it’s just an excuse for infidelity!” They didn’t like that very much. But by then there were a few more women around and boy were they cheering me on!

Looking back, what I should have done was tried a more “out of the box” approach and found an example that they might have understood. I still don’t know what that might be, but I haven’t given up yet.

I think the most frustrating part about hearing these blatant untruths is that they are not only being perpetuated, but they are adamantly believed by the individuals perpetuating them. And why shouldn’t they be? If someone told me for example that India does NOT in fact border an ocean, and I grew up my whole life believing that it does, and I had never been there to see for myself…why would I believe them?

And of course my ego gets involved in these situations. In each case when all methods of reasoning with them failed I pulled the “Yes, but I AM RIGHT. Listen, I got my undergraduate AND graduate degrees in development/population related issues concerning the “developing world” and I actually studied these exact things at very reputable universities!” But it’s no use.

I guess the point of this whole entry is just to point out to people that yes sweeping educational reform is key…but QUALITY is just as, if not more important.

I mean when I say that my sisters even go to school, its only for a few hours a day and then every other day it seems they come home early for strikes, or because there is a meeting, or because of some other random reason. And vacations are ridiculously long and the start of school this year falls on Ramadan so it most certainly won’t start on time because they’ll all be too hungry and exhausted to concentrate or even go to school.

Some days my work feels like a tiny drop of rain in the middle of a drought…in the Sahara…when what it really needs is months of giant thundering rainstorms.


Anonymous said...

I remember people we met from Romania in the 70's (university educated) believed that if you drank liquids with ice in them you would catch a cold.
Over 40% of the people in the US think Iraq played a part in 9/11 even though Fox news admits there was no conection.
As you taught me, "over 70% of statistics are made up." So who can believe anything.
Finally, remember most people in the world, including the US, believe there is an imaginary being watching them and judging them. They even go to special houses to worship these imaginary beings and ask them for things.
Go figure,

Katy said...

Shoot...there's more than 3 continents? How many are there? I must find out before I start teaching again on the 30th.