Africa Speaks: Teaching

Liberal Arts Building, University of Niamey, Niger, 1992

CONTENTS:. . . In Konni . . . My Education: Past, Present, Future .. . The American School . . . Teaching Writing . . . Education in Niger . . . home page

In Konni

Iyo Ibrahim, 11/5/92

When I started teaching in 1980, I was almost twenty years old. At that time, it was forbidden to teachers to have a student in the secondary school as a girlfriend. Some teachers who were suspected of having made students pregnant were dismissed, and sent directly to prison. But my very young age and the provocations of the beautiful girls in my school made me run the risk. I did not know I would get into trouble.

When I passed the final exam at the teachers' training school of Zinder I was sent to Konni as an English teacher. My beginnings in teaching were difficult because I did not have enough experience. It took me three or four hours to prepare a lesson, because I did not like my students to complain about my teaching.

In the whole school I was the only Nigerien who was teaching English. The others were Ghanaians or Togolese, so I was always doing my best to bring honor to the young Nigerien teachers. I was strict in my job. I never came to school without my preparation. I was at school ten or fifteen minutes before the bell rang. It was hard work but in the end I loved my job, for I felt I was doing something for my brothers, for my country.

When I was off duty, I needed to relax. Sometimes I went in a bar to have a bottle or two of beer. When I was short of money, I played basketball or volleyball instead of going the bar. Frequently my students would come and visit me. I tried not to pay any attention to the girl students who paid me visits. They didn't wait for an invitation. Some girls I did not even know wrote letters to declare their love to me. Well aware of the danger I was running I did not stay at home very often, but these girls continued to come to my house.

But really these girls were irresistible. I chose one girl and tried to avoid meeting the others. I thought that in limiting myself to one girlfriend I could avoid getting in trouble. The girl I chose was named Aminatou. I really enjoyed myself with her. I took her to the nightclub or to the parties which took place every two weeks in that town.

One day, near the end of the academic year, the headmaster called a meeting of teachers and said he would write a report on all those who ran after their students. I did not pay much attention, because I knew that he, too, had a girlfriend among his students. I did not know that the headmaster was sending some students (both girls and boys) to spy on me. He wanted to be informed about any girls who entered my house. He wanted their names and their classes. These two elements were sufficient to make a report on me.

One day the headmaster called me in his office and asked me how it was I made Fati pregnant. I did not know what to say to him because I was confused. I said I had never been with that girl, and if I ever saw her, it was in the classroom like all the other students. He replied that it was not true, because he had the time and the dates of my rendezvous with Fati, and now there was nothing he could do: he had already written his report. He added that I could defend myself before the court.

My boss was telling lies, because he knew that Fati had been made pregnant by one of his friends, Ali, the head of the dis- trict of Office of Agriculture. They both agreed to accuse me because I was known to have many girl friends. I couldn't escape from going to prison. They bribed Fati's parents by giving them a lot of money, and the headmaster asked them to support the idea that I was going out with their daughter.

Two policemen took me to the police station that evening. Fortunately the Captain knew everything that happened in that town. He said he would investigate. He said it might be the machinations of my headmaster who, himself, had a girlfriend among his students.

One night while this was going on I went to see a priest and explained my problems to him. He asked me to give him five francs. Then he took out a mirror from his bag. After reciting something I could not understand, the priest asked me to look in the mirror and to tell him everything I saw. I was very surprised to see the headmaster, his friend Ali, and Fati and her parents.

He told me not to be afraid, and said that the organizers of this plot would be ashamed of their deed. But first I had to bring to him a black hen and a white hen and three kola nuts. He took a razor, cut one of my fingers, and spread the blood over the nuts. Then he said, "Do not be afraid when you hear something strange while sleeping tonight."

I could not sleep that night because I felt that my bed was moving and I heard the sound of bees swarming. The following day the headmaster was absent. The gardener at the school told us that two policemen took him to the station. After that I heard that the headmaster had made a girl pregnant. The police investigation showed that I was not involved with Fati.

When I told my priest the news, he seemed not to be sur- prised; he only said, "I know it my son, with me you will know about yourself."

This is just the beginning of a relationship...

Copyright © 1998 Iyo Ibrahim


Niger river ferry (toward Tera), Niger, 1992

My Education: Past, Present, Future

"Rah Man Youcif," 11/5/92

I was born July 14, 1963 in Tera, an arrondissement of the Tillabery department. My village is 180 Km from Niamey, on the other side of the Niger River. It has seven quarters, a hospital, many schools and official bureaus, and two market places.

When I was young, I used to go to the family farm six days a week with my uncle. The last day, Sunday, is a hunting day in my arrondissement. From all parts of the land, people come with their guns, their clubs, their dogs, and their arrows. The group leaders ride on their horses and the other members go on foot in the bush, where they stay all day long.

I was registered at primary school in September 1970 at the age of seven. The decision was made by my sisters, who preferred the French public school to the Arabic medersa [Koranic School].

Early on the first of October, I was awakened by my mother to take a bath. I was then powdered and well dressed before I had my breakfast. I realized that something new was about to happen to me because I never woke up so early. At 7:30 I was driven to the school.

Many students, both old and new, were already in the place, some of them playing and joking and telling stories, others telling each other how they spent their holidays. We newcomers felt very shy in the school. Finally, at 8 o'clock, the bell rang, calling each pupil to go in front of his classroom where the teachers stood.

As my family members and friends used to call me Doudou, it was the first time I knew that my name was Douramane. We spent our whole day playing and telling short stories in our mother tongue.

* * *

I studied hard for six years before entering the college every student was dreaming of. After four years, I passed my exam and was directed to the training school for teachers. I got out two years later and taught French in primary schools in many parts of the country. At that time, every civil servant was obliged to work actively for five years before taking an exam for further study.

After I had taught for five years, I learned about the "Special A," an entrance exam given by the University for working professionals. It is a difficult exam which requires competence in various fields of study; the applicant has to sit for both oral and written sessions. I decided to take the exam and to try for a degree in English.

I asked my headmaster and the community inspector to allow me to go to the University. The headmaster encouraged me, but the inspector did not want to hear anything about it. He told me that there was no use going to study at the University because the students were planning to strike, and anyway he did not want his best community teachers to leave him. He also added that as a teacher I was paid more money than a student and it would be a pity to lose all these advantages for an uncertain future.

Finally, he told me that he had also taken that entrance exam and had failed, thus he did not think that I could pass it even if I tried my best. When I heard the inspector say I would not succeed, I told him that maybe he was not well prepared before the exam, or he was overconfident, or perhaps he had been overworked and thus did not do his best.

He kept quiet and listened to me until I stopped talking, then he excused himself for having attacked me and signed my exam application. He gave it back to me with his encouragement. I took the application and left his office, for I had to have it signed by the Prefect before I could, at the end, bring it to the University.

Twenty candidates took the test in 1989, but only five were to become students. I passed the exam and was accepted to enter the University in Fall 1989. I left my teaching position, moved into the University dormitory, and prepared for the academic year.

On the first day of school, I woke up and had a wash after a half hour of waiting my turn to go into the shower. I had my breakfast in the cafeteria, which had a capacity of one hundred, and went to school, which was full of old and new students. At eight o'clock we went in the library, where we had our first phonetics course. Our teacher was Eva, a German-American Peace Corps volunteer. She was enterprising and dynamic, always ready to give us advice.

When the first class was over, we stayed in the library to check for the books we were supposed to read. Then all the English department students gathered in the cafeteria for a meeting of the English Club. We elected the officers, then talked about the problems that the club had suffered in the past.

After lunch, we drank the traditional tea on the lawn of the University campus, chatting about the class schedule and the methods of borrowing books from both the school library and the American Cultural Center library. Then we came back to school. Unfortunately our literature class teacher didn't come, so we went to the American Cultural Center to have our library cards made.

It was the beginning of what we hoped would be a very hard working academic year, but actually it turned out to be the worst year in the history of the University, because the strike tore everything apart, and brought about the closing of the University.

Copyright © 1998 "Rah Man Youcif" (pseud)


Boys at Boubon, Niger, 1992

The American School

"Rah Man Youcif," 3/16/92

The American school of Niamey is situated in the residential area of Niamey, next to the Embassy of Libya, on the road to Tondibia and other touristic villages. A group of six students were selected to participate in the school's Niger Week.

I knew about the school for a long time, but my first visit to it was on Wednesday, 11 March 1992. Mrs. Pamela Fisher, our teacher of English as a Foreign Language, met us at 11:30 AM in the lorry park of the University campus in her Land Rover. Among us six students, four different African languages were spoken: I am a native speaker of Djerma; Yacouba of Hausa; Tchida of Fulani; and Khamed of Tamaschek. This group was to speak to students from six to fifteen years of age. Oumarou, who speaks Fulani; and Abba, who speaks Djerma, spoke to the teachers and advanced students. Most of us spoke several of these languages, and of course we all spoke English and French as well.

On the way, from the Kennedy Bridge to the residential area of Yantala, we talked and laughed about what we planned and what questions would be asked. There was fun in the air.

The American school of Niamey is next to the American Embassy compound, on the right of the road to Tondibia, facing the residence of the American ambassador on the left. When we arrived at the school compound, a guard opened the gate, after the usual questions about our identity. Mrs. Fisher said that teachers and pupils inside were waiting for us. We drove in and parked in the parking lot.

On the right is a playground, a restaurant, and a swimming pool. This area connects with the classrooms by flower lined sidewalks. We had a first view of the school when standing under a tree, waiting for the headmaster of the American school to come. While waiting, we looked through an doorway in the Embassy compound wall, and saw our teacher of stylistics, Dr. Patricia Stoll. We could not enter the Embassy compound, as the door was guarded.

Mr. Ralph Reed, the headmaster of the American school is a strong man. He looks like a fan of body building. His face is surrounded by light hair, sideburns, beard and mustache, in the same way that the classrooms and offices of the school surround a courtyard area of lawn and flowers.

After introductions, Mr. Reed took us into the library. Of all the African writers whose names figured on the map of the continent, there was no Nigerien writer. We promised to give some names to the school. Masks, drawings, and pictures covered the wall. African and American books of short stories and folk tales were everywhere. The librarian, a pretty young woman, had a talk with us, and we went on to visit the computer room. There were at least a dozen computers. Students of the American school, both boys and girls, are trained to manipulate these personal computers.

Then we entered the first classroom. It was the Fulani classroom. The teacher greeted us, then we joked in Fulani and laughed together. Then we visited next the other classrooms and talked to the other teachers. All these events happened during the students' lunch break time.

After the break, the pupils came back into the classrooms. In my Zarma classroom, Mr. Gregory was their teacher. We were introduced to each other and we talked about the aspects of the Djerma language, and how the Zarma people live with other ethnic groups. I taught the students how to greet and to count in Djerma from one to ten.

Then I told them a short story of Hyena, Hare, and Monkey, to show how human characteristics are repre- sented by animals and the environment. Then we sang a song of the folk tale, which I had translated into English. After that, the pupils asked some questions about Zarma ways of life, love, and traditions. Abba helped me a lot to answer questions on the coexistence of the different ethnic mentalities, before he went to meet Oumarou and others in the library.

The pupils and the teacher enjoyed the song very much, and even the smaller boys of ten years old claimed me in their class- room, where they asked questions about music, food, and my own hobby, which, I told them, was riding a horse.

Then Mr. Reed came in, and he and the teacher of the classroom congratulated me. We were all invited to have lunch.

The restaurant serves many kinds of food, from simple rice and sauce to the most sophisticated and foreign dishes. It has four small rooms. We, or those of us who were not fasting for Ramadan, had soft drinks in the lounge. Other teachers, most of them women, were watching television in the second room. Mr. Reed guided us to the counter of the restaurant. He recommended the capitaine, saying the cooks had a special way to prepare the fish. The orders were noted and the cooks started their stoves.

There were magazines everywhere and we read some of them while waiting for the food to come. We also talked about the benefit of such activities, agreeing they should be organized from time to time to interchange ideas. We also talked about the difficulties we are having to complete our studies abroad. We learned a lot about each other at lunch.

Mr. Ralph Reed called us in his office, and on behalf of the American school, gave to each of us a pencil and an exercise book, and a smile, before taking us back to the University in his Toyota car. Mr. Greg was driving the second car. I was in the first car, and we talked about culture, education, and especially about the American school and its facilities.

We stopped at the place where Mrs. Fisher had picked us up in the morning, but then we all decided to go back to the University, where we had afternoon classes with Mr. Kombo Adamou, our teacher of translation, and with Mr. Ali Souley, our teacher of linguistics. We thanked each other and shook hands, promising to keep in contact whenever needed.

Copyright 1998 'Rah Man Youcif"


Teaching Writing

Issifi Boureima 6/1/92 final exam

In teaching writing, many techniques--good ones--are available, but most of the time, and especially in French-speaking Africa, the lack of means constitutes a big problem. Classrooms are overcrowded, and students also have to face many other different problems.

English is a third language in most of the cases. It's a problem to get ideas in the mother tongue (Hausa or Zarma), translate them into French, and then into English.

The teaching experience I had took place in a C.E.G. in Tillabery. C.E.G. students are generally at a very low level and there aren't enough books. There was a kind of library, but most of the books were in French. There were only a few English books and these were used by the teachers for lectures.

English was used only during the English course, because out of class pupils have no opportunity to speak or read in English. To have my students read English, I had to take my own books, copy pages from them, and hand students the texts for reading.

I usually told them to read the texts and answer study questions in writing. After the usual quiz I asked them to write any kind of stories they knew, but the topic should be related to the one we discussed.

This homework was done, not because students knew its importance, but just because it was a task would could bring good grades.

To be fair, reading is not easy at that level. Even pupils of the fourth form can't properly read the text in their books.

Copyright 1998 Issifi Boureima


Gao tree near Dosso, Niger, 1992

Education in Niger

Moussa Issoufou

We always talk of making changes in the education system in Niger. But what do we want? Most research is based in cities and towns, whereas 90% of the population is rural. So we talk of teaching about the environment, but with no good examples.

The first books, such as "Famille Boda" for our primary classes, are purely urban. The items talk about life in town, instead of the provinces. I know we can't have a textbook for our specific area, but we must feel that we are teaching about our daily life in the country, in order to give the pupils the opportunity for free expression. For example, texts should talk about hailstones--which students have seen--instead of ice--which they have not.

Some words and ideas are met only in the readings; after that they are not useful. For example: in the textbook of the elementary school, a lesson teaches about the changing of water into ice and vapor. It is said that the temperature for changing water to ice is 0 degrees C., and 100 degrees C. for changing water into vapor, and also that this vapor mixes with and becomes clouds to bring rain.

In this way pupils will think that water changes to vapor only at 100 degrees C., and if so, how do wet clothes dry? This point must be extended and clarified, as the rivers also evaporate without boiling at 100 degrees.

Above all, INDRAP, the Institute of Research, needs young teachers for its researchers. Experienced teachers can't do the job by themselves, because teaching changes according to the time.

Copyright 1998 Moussa Issoufou

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