Thoughts on Interviews, Intelligence, and Vegetarianism

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” –Plato

This past week we had interviews at the IFP.  If a student wants to become a teacher in Mozambique, they must first finish school up through tenth grade.  They then (or maybe after twelfth) apply for entry into a teacher training college, or IFP (Instituto de Formação de Professores).  To do this, they take a national exam.  If they pass, they interview with a panel of 3 teachers who give them a score out of 20.  These scores, combined with the test scores and some sort of “secret” scores in Maputo determine whether they’ll get in or not.  If they get in, they undergo a one, two, or three-year education program to be a primary school teacher.  Ours is a one-year program, meaning the students will be expected to get a teaching job and teach in one year.

There are two options for students applying: Regular (Portuguese, social sciences, math, science, technology, methodology, bantu languages, music/art, and gym) and English (English, technology, methodology, bantu languages, music/art, and gym).  Caitlin and I took part in the panel of interviews for the Curso Ingles.  Because we’re new and they don’t trust us, we weren’t an official part of the panel.  Rather it was made up of our English colleagues, two formadors here at the IFP, and one high school English teacher.  We sat up on a platform and interviewed the 35 candidates applying for the English program.

It was very interesting how the process was set up.  They were sorted alphabetically, but by first name.  Individual students would come in, give us their identity cards, and then be asked to introduce themselves.  They would be asked why they wanted to be a teacher, and then would read a short paragraph to prove they can read in English.  Next they would be asked a series of questions—some general knowledge (random trivia) questions, some on sports or entertainment, some on technology, some on society, some on Health.   We also had slips of paper from which they would pick a question, and we reserved the right to ask questions of our own.  Here are a few examples of questions students were asked:

-Do you carry good remembrances of your primary school?  Would you like to talk about that?

-What is the purpose of the bridge Armando Emilio Guebuza?

-What is the name of the conference hall in Maputo?

-Talk about your background education.

-Is a fish an animal, a mammal, or a reptile?

-If you could redo the past, what would you do better?

-What is heavier, 1kg of sand or 1kg of cotton?

-Talk about an animal with a tale.

-Say 10 things about yourself.

-What is the role of a traditional Mozambican woman?

-When is the world cup taking place?

-Mention some sexual transmission diseases.

The teachers interviewing with us focused a lot on if the candidate was married, and, if not, why not.  They also spent a lot of time grilling them on why they wanted to be a teacher until they admitted it was a job.  It was interesting to see, and uncomfortable for me at times.  Sometimes our colleagues made the candidates sing or dance for us.  By the end of the interviews, all of us interviewers were just exhausted, and I felt like it became more the teachers trying to make it for our entertainment rather than a serious interview.  I felt bad for those kids.  I also felt bad because the test was not designed to be culturally appropriate in all areas of Mozambique.  One of the questions that stumped every person who got it was about explaining if vegetarianism was a good idea or not.  The thing is, vegetarianism doesn’t exist here.  It can’t really exist here: you eat what you can get.  I’m not saying that the meat processing industry in America is ok or anything, but vegetarianism is really a developed-world concept.  Before this I never really thought about vegetarianism being a matter of privilege, of people who can choose what they eat and still have access to all the proteins they need, but it is.  There are good reasons for being a vegetarian, but it is not something that even an educated African adult understands.  None of the kids interviewing knew the word, and were not able to empathize with vegetarians once we explained it.  They didn’t really understand why the word existed.

Overall, the students had a similar level of English to my students in France last year.  They made similar mistakes, such as “I have 19 years old” and other direct translations.  There were some very good ones, some in the middle, and some very bad ones.  One girl could not even understand the question “How old are you?”  A surprising amount didn’t know things such as when the world cup was or what exactly democracy was.  That was more surprising to me.  While we were grading, our Pedagogical Director came in.  He asked us to give everyone a minimum of 10, especially the girls.  That’s when the politics came into play.  Caitlin and I said we were not comfortable having people who could not speak English in our classes and expected to teach English in a year.  We were told we didn’t have a choice, and that didn’t mean those students would get in.  In the end, I believe the grades were still changed…

Because the English program had fewer candidates, they lasted only a day and a half, half as long as the regular interviews.  Me being the curious person I am, I decided to sit in on some of the Regular Curso interviews.  It was interesting, especially since one of the interviewers decided to be frank with me before the interview started.  He explained that someone would be coming by with names on slips of paper, and that those kids were the kids we would have to help because they were friends or family members of formadors here at the IFP.  He said he knew it wasn’t exactly ethical, but that’s how things were done here and so, being here for 2 years, I would have to get used to it.

At first I was a bit taken aback, since I definitely don’t agree with cheating or dishonesty, but I can see his point.  There is a cycle of poverty here that is very apparent in the bairro around the IFP.  Even though these people have a lot of money, they still have a fear of their loved ones falling into this cycle.  They do anything they can to prevent it, even if it means dishonesty.  Here it isn’t as bad because it’s just doing what they have to to survive and have a happy life.  They aren’t thinking of the country or how these actions are perpetuating the cycle of poverty (unqualified candidates get into school, go to teach in neighborhood schools but do not do a good job, children do not learn and fall behind, when they grow up they are stuck without some of the critical thinking and language skills that they need to advance in society), but just caring for those they love.  That doesn’t condone it or make it ok, but I can understand.  I won’t participate, but at the same time I am a guest here and I will not be able to change the world.  There will just have to be some things I accept, or fight on my own terms.

In the Portuguese interviews they were asked some general knowledge questions (what is the name of the hino nacional, what 3 movements formed FRELIMO, what are the districts in Niassa), a few math questions (50+10-10, 30×7, etc.), and they would annotate a sentence or read a passage.  Sometimes they had to identify vowels, conjugate verbs, or even do pushups.  It was interesting.  Some people on the list only had to write their name on the board or answer a few questions.  Others were asked to name the national ministers.  One kid was sent out and told to arrange himself better because his shirt was untucked.  I only saw one attempted bribery: a woman who came up at the end and tried to hand them 100 meticais (about $3, but still a lot of money here).  They refused it.

It was surprising to me to see how many simple (in my mind) questions the students got wrong.  The first student asked what 30×7 was said 10.  One kid couldn’t conjugate the verb “dar” (to give).  Quite a few didn’t know what a consonant was.  I was kind of put-off by the interviews until talking to one of our American friends later that evening.  She brought up the thought that Mozambicans generally thought we were stupid for not knowing how to grow beans or grate a coconut with a ralador.  Those things are more important and relevant to their lives than math and grammar problems.  It was quite humbling, and made me remember how last week I bought a pineapple and didn’t know where to grasp it to break off the stem. Meanwhile, there were some Mozambican women laughing at me on the side, one of who came over to help me.  I must have looked like an idiot to them.  In the end, it’s a different kind of intelligence.  One is not necessarily better than the other, but they both serve different purposes.  In America we tend to devalue technical knowledge and informal education because you need the formal education and book learning to get most high-earning jobs.  In Mozambique, you need to know how to plant your machamba and cook over carvão to survive.  I know I’m speaking from a point of privilege and can’t entirely relate, but I think it’s important to recognize that all forms of intelligence are important.

Portuguese word of the day: Entrevista—Interview

Makua word of the day: empá—house

French word of the day: Entretien—Interview

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One thought on “Thoughts on Interviews, Intelligence, and Vegetarianism

  1. Best wishes to you and Katya. Excellent portrayal of your thoughts.
    It’s important to recognize that all forms of intelligence are important. That was a profound statement that I found very meaningful.

    Creating rewards for honesty will be a fruitful challenge. I am not sure exactly how, but sports competition may be a reward for honesty and means to reinforce the importance of following the rules.
    What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

    We tell lies when we are afraid… afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.
    -Tad Williams

    To make your children capable of honesty is the beginning of education.
    -John Ruskin

    Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential for success in life – all areas of life. The really good news is that anyone can develop both honesty and integrity.
    Zig Ziglar

    “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”
    Socrates (469-399); Philosopher (if you are a teacher, develop and have the skills to teach)

    Keep up the pursuit. Katya’s Father

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