Vol. 15, #1
Mike Jemmett, our Canadian volunteer, looks backwards and to the future, evaluating our Osotwa Maasai Education for Leadership program:
Our Playing Field
When Tanzanians or expatriates discover I am teaching among the Maasai, they frequently comment, “They’re such an intelligent people.” Patronizing or accurate observation? If accurate, too little seems to be invested in capitalizing on this resource. Nevertheless, academic performance is a blend of genetic and environmental factors such as diet and health, parental encouragement or the quality of primary education.
Diet and health, many would say is adequate locally; others would claim substandard. Responding to negative parental attitudes, our girls usually remain living in our dormitory between terms, forging their own sisterhood, suspecting that a trip home could get them married off against their will, and end their formal education. I have heard of and occasionally seen ways in which (rural Maasai)primary education is deficient in resources, methodology and spirit.
Money and meddling supercede merit. Children learn almost as early as breathing the effects of corrupt “politics” through bribery, theft, nepotism…. One may counter that all societies face this; here, however, they face it on a grand and blatant scale in all spheres with no recourse. Children hear it, live it, suffer it. An Osotwa grad and Ngorongoro’s number one student this year on one set of exams, thrilled with his achievement and financial support, lives nervously day to day now, doubting his acceptance into the high school of his choice, or any for that matter. He realizes that one dishonest link in the educational chain could suspend or eliminate his progress. Our students do have a deck stacked against them, yet still they seek us out.
Osotwa Raises the Bar
Initially, Osotwa worked with a handful of young people, but in time its reputation has grown among the Maasai and among administrators of schools to which our students would go. In January of 1999, 33 students were admitted to our one-year prep school program, regardless of primary school performance, in the hope of improving academic skills for possible secondary education. They ranged from inability to print their names to discussing elementary astrophysics in English.
However, three issues have developed over the years: the demand for entrance to Osotwa now exceeds ability to house, feed and provide educational materials; financial sponsorship for continuing education cannot be extended currently for all students, even if all excelled; and a lower pupil teacher ratio (PTR) would improve the quality of instruction. Consequently, we faculty of three decided to hold the first Osotwa entrance examination.
With no television, radio, newspaper or mailing addresses, how do we publicize this exam in the bush? Our mass media is best arranged on the second and fifteenth of each month when, from far and wide, Endulen hosts the market day. The ancient oral tradition is alive alongside our short wave based cyber-telecommunications.
“Exam” may be an overstatement: In fact, English and Mathematics consisted of ten written questions each, from the extremely simple to the complex, to be completed in a total of 25 minutes; the individual oral interview comprised three questions in simple English, and three in Swahili on general knowledge.
All ten girls who applied took the exam and were admitted in line with Osotwa’s philosophy of extending needed socio-academic assistance to young Maasai women. Of the 23 boys, 13 were selected. Overall, girls scored higher in all categories; but of those accepted, boys scored higher in all categories except English. “Yikes! Those scores!” you gasp. Remember the standard of education from which these applicants are emerging; also, locally, 20% is a pass compared to 50% or 60% in North America.
Eng. 20% on exam 25% on exam
Math. 63% on exam 50% on exam
Interview 61% on exam 53% on exam
Those accepted will have a narrower and higher range of academic abilities, ensuring greater post primary success. Accepting fewer students does not, as some claim, “relegate” them to the poverty of pastoralist lifestyle. We are no elitist. On the contrary, with the Maasai Osotwa maintains the valve and validity of pastoralism as chosen by the tribe; but we are working with the Maasai to regain the dignity of this tradition. This work, seen broadly, requires (formal) education and awareness. To this end, Osotwa is committed to raising the bar.
Beyond our Walls
We are dedicated to more than the one-year prep school and leadership program. We are careful not to start a student in secondary (high) school unless financial support is viable for a minimum of four years. Boys and girls, fortunate to gain assistance through donations to Osotwa, are placed in schools appropriate to their abilities and interests. As of January 2000, here is where our own Osotwa-supported graduates are pursuing their futures.
Supported graduates of our Osotwa Prep School
Secondary/High Technical Nursing
School (secretarial School
& home crafts)
Boys Girls Girls Girls
First yr. 2 3 3
Second yr. 4 3 7
Third yr. 1 0 1
Fourth yr. 4 7
Form V 1
Form VI 2
In addition, there are five 1999 high school graduate girls (graduated 1999) seeking positions in the fields of health and conservation in Maasai country. Of all those heading to secondary schools through Osotwa, our program provides tuition and incidental costs for approximately one in four. Our support is primarily but not uniquely for girls, who would otherwise be neglected. The education of girls is all the more significant in a culture where women traditionally have had little voice or exposure to ideas and options in order to determine their future and that of the culture they carry.
Education for Leadership, with your support, is working and we anticipate wonderful challenges ahead.