Computer Science 101 Posted on October 17th, 2009 by

While in Tanzania, I had a plan of volunteering.  I thought I might be able to do some promotional photography for the college and volunteer at a local school.   So last week I got started on finding where I could volunteer.

Starting to volunteer is not as easy a project as I had imagined.  I quickly discovered there is a slow multistep process needed to volunteer.  I first had to talk to someone at the college who could hook me up with a job.  But or course this person is nearly impossible to find.  Four out of the five times I went looking for him, he was not around.  Once I finally contacted him, he told me I needed to talk to two other people.  So off I went to scout them down. Finding them was not so hard and I was able to sit down with them and explain what I wanted to do.  But it doesn’t end there.  They told me that I needed to write a letter to the school asking if they needed a volunteer.  So off I went to my computer to type up a letter.  Having done and delivered that, someone needed to talk to the headmaster at the school for me.  Mind you, this is all done at the leisurely pace of Tanzania. 

Eventually I was able to talk to the headmaster himself.  Now talking to some Tanzanians can be difficult.  Eye contact is considered impolite in Tanzania for one thing, and many men just don’t know how to talk to women, especially a white one.  On top of that, it is always hard to understand exactly what the Tanzanian is saying because of their accent. 

I imagined that I could tutor perhaps math or English naturally.  Evidently not.  I was told straight away that I couldn’t tutor English because I had an American accent – they wouldn’t understand me.  Never mind that English is my first language and I’ve spoken it all my life.  Okay, that’s fine, I can tutor math then. Nope.  We want you to teach computer science.  You want me to what?

Yes they want me to teach of all things.  I’m still not sure where they got such an outlandish idea.  For starters I’ve just finished high school, second I don’t know the least about teaching in the States much less in Tanzania, and third I’ve never taken a computer class in my life.  I think those are some good qualifications for teaching, don’t you?  (Now if I can’t tutor English because of my accent, how do they expect me to teach computer science?  There are a lot of things here that don’t make much sense.)  The headmaster gave me the course syllabus and told me to come back the next week.

On Tuesday I found myself facing forty-odd students in the Nsoo Secondary School.  The students are in Form I, which is the equivalent of 9th grade.  The classroom is about half the size of a typical American classroom and is stuffed with twice the occupants on little wooden benches.  There is just enough room at the front for the teacher to stand at the chalkboard.

When I first entered, the students all stood and in chorus said, “Welcome teacher.  How are you today teacher?”  Tanzanian school children are much better behaved than American students.  They are taught to respect teachers from the start and don’t have the discipline issues that we do.  Well, that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.

As I began teaching, I found it hard to assess their knowledge of computers.  They knew their facts but have a hard time drawing conclusions and ‘thinking critically’.  I found it even harder to know if they understood my English.  When I asked if they understood, they responded in a programmed, “Yes teacher” but I have my doubts as to whether they really understood or not. At one point I was talking about data and asked the class if anyone could define data.  No one answered.  I turned to write it on the chalkboard and instantly they said, “Oh, you mean daata!”  Evidently I hadn’t pronounced the word ‘data’ in the proper British manner with the long aah sound. 

Assigning homework was a similarly difficult task.  Since the students don’t have a textbook, I can’t assign any reading.  And because they don’t know how to use computers yet (hence the class) and there is limited internet they can’t do much in the way of research.  So I had to be creative and figure something out they could do with the resources they have. 

There are only three more weeks left in the term so I have a lot to fit in.  Tanzanian schools operate in a semester program with long breaks in between (school will resume in Mid-January).

And so begins my career in teaching.


One Comment

  1. Jake says:

    Keep your spirits high. Tanzania is a wonderful country and sometimes being raised in the US we don’t realize how much knowledge we really have to pass on to others. Keep up the good work and have fun!