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From a participant: Tanzanian teacher impressed by semester system in U.S.

July 13, 2010

Mr. Jumanne Mpinga is a biology teacher from Pugu Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He is very interested in promoting religious understanding and tolerance, and he also founded the Tanzanian Muslim Students Association.

Mr. Mpinga visited the Iowa between May 16-June 6 and chaperoned the Tanzanian students on their flight home. During his visit, Mr. Jumanne hoped to see how YES students, especially the Muslim ones, adjusted to the American culture and also to engage in fruitful dialogue with the people he would meet.

The assignment on the trip was to visit schools in the state of Iowa where 2009-2010 YES students were placed. We visited six schools: Mount Ayr High School, Diagonal High School and Atlantic High School as well as East High School, Abraham Lincoln High School and Saydel High School in the capital city of Iowa, Des Moines.
We also visited the Area Education Agency (AEA), but unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Iowa Department of Education, which was in the plan.

Arrivals and school visits

When we arrived at the Des Moines International Airport, there was a warm welcome by the YES Program coordinator, Christelle Enega.
Before we went to our first host family, we visited the home where Mohammed Bello, one of the Nigerian students, was living. There, we were able to get our first experience of the American families who were hosting our students.
That night, we stayed in Ames with our first host family, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, a retired professor and a retired accountant.
In Diagonal, we stayed with Nora and Bruce Giese. These people were wonderful. They hosted Lusekelo Lwesya from Morogoro, Tanzania, and treated him like their own child. They were quite flexible to keep their big dogs outside the house after they noticed that I was scared of them and kept them inside their rooms during the daytime and in the evenings. We had three wonderful nights with this family.
At Mount Ayr High School, we got a very professional reception with the principal of the school, and he guided us though different classes including technology, English, Algebra I, lunch, human relations/sociology and physics.
When we visited Diagonal High School, the senior students had already graduated, so most of the classes were empty. However, we were able to be in Algebra II, general science and U.S history classes.  We were also able to see the daycare center and had a discussion with the superintendent.
We had a two-day visit to Atlantic High School. This school was much bigger than the former two. We visited different classes and had discussions with individual teachers and administrators, including the principal. We attended a biology class taught by a long-serviced and experienced teacher, Mr. Daniel, who was just a few days from his retirement. It was quite exiting the way the teacher was very devoted, focused and determined. He didn’t place as much emphasis on new technologies like most other teachers, because he believes that technology does not do everything. He offered us a huge bundle of biology books, but we weren’t able to take them all.

Mr. Anyam Adzever, Dennis Lengishon, Mr. Jumanne Mpinga, Victor Yusuf

Other classes visited included fine arts, interpersonal communication skills and technology classes, where the kids were exposed to advanced architectural drawings on the part of my Tanzania context.

In Atlantic, we visited the farm of Mr. Dick and Cindy Nichols, where  two YES students lived, Victor Yusuf from Nigeria and Dennis Lengishon from Tanzania. In this school, we also met Eshpa Mollel from Tanzania, who was hosted by Nicholas and Sue Hunt.
Our hosts in Des Moines warmly welcomed us like other previous families. The family treated me and my fellow Nigerian teacher nicely and took a lot of time to entertain us through creative visits to various places in Des Moines. We toured Drake University, visited their church, attended a baseball game, went to the Des Moines military base, visited the Science Center, attended a dinner party and visited the Pioneer agricultural research center and the cultural tourism center.
We got invited by Mr. Vidal Spain, a senior teacher in the East High School, to visit Independence, Iowa, where we had an African party for Mr. Francis, a man from Sierra Leone, who was retiring from the job.
We finished our stay in host families with Professor Jan and Professor George, who welcomed us with very interesting African foods and a lot of sharing about academics. The family took me to the Ames Mosque, and we attended a girls’ soccer match.

General observations about American people’s life:

I was surprised by the automatic life – where most things are either automated or much simplified (such as doing laundry, dishwashing)! Other things that surprised me were the cleanliness both in streets and at home, the hardworking people, that eating everywhere was given high priority and that people are very friendly to see new faces close to them.
Time-conscious people and people making one-day arrangements and all the appointments almost done in time; I was surprised to see that one was supposed to make a pre-arrangement for going to restaurants even in rural areas!
I was surprised by the time zones changes. We left Amsterdam in the Netherlands in the morning and traveled on a flight of eight hours, but still arrived in USA in the morning (like we had traveled only one hour)! Wow! I believed the reality, but I didn’t believe what was happening.

Special observations:

  1. There is very high volunteerism in the American people. I was also surprised to see a professor being paid the very minimum of $7 per hour for a very technical assignment.
  2. There is almost 100% democracy of the internal politics in the USA regarding the freedom of the Americans to talk about their government, especially when the statehouses are part of tourism centers! I was shocked when one of our hosts took us to the Des Moines military base. Both the statehouse and the military base are places I have never visited in my mother country! When I asked her why and how this was possible, she replied that “this is our government.” Another host said, “we can do so because it is the government of the people for people by the people.”
  3. I was amazed of the semester system that all American schools have. I really agree that it is the most appropriate system to genuinely assess the students. In Tanzania, we assess our primary school pupils with a single day of testing after they have studied for seven years. Regardless of how the student‘s mood is on the examination day, if one fails, it is for good. I don’t think that is fair.

Recommendations and Conclusions

The YES program in large-extent is and will be productive. I recommend to the IRIS/YES Program to make a follow-up study to learn where the alumni students go after their graduations and what they do. I also urge the local education authorities in Tanzania to find the best way to accommodate the alumni students when they go back home.
*After returning to Tanzania, Mr. Mpinga advised the Ministry of Education to consider introducing a credit-based semester continuous assessment system in secondary schools. Read about his recommendation here.
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