From Africa to a U.S. high school

In desperately poor Sierra Leone, Abdul Kargbo studied in a school that lacked books, electricity and running water. He competed with classmates for the prestige of ranking first in the class. Then, at the age of 16, he moved to the U.S. He writes on Education Sector:

With the exception of the American authors, my English literature classes covered material that I had already studied. And, although U.S. history was a new subject for me — I had studied only African and European history in Sierra Leone — I had already studied the World Wars and the Four Revolutions in my first year of secondary school. My Advanced Placement French classes covered grammar and vocabulary that I had learned in primary school, and my microbiology class was less advanced than the biology classes I had taken in my first and second years of secondary school, when I was between 12 and 13 years old.

What I found most frustrating was that, while teachers might have genuinely wanted everyone to get an equal grasp of the material, they erred too much in favor of ensuring that everyone passed tests and exams. These were so simple that even students who had not even bothered to show up for class could still get a passing score.

Many of his U.S. classmates didn’t work hard enough to go on to college. They didn’t seem to believe that success in school would lead to success in life. The opportunity to get an education — so cherished in Sierra Leone — was taken for granted.

In the Washington Post, Jay Mathews observes that students can graduate with good grades in college-prep classes without being prepared for college success.

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Comments

  1. Abdul’s story mirrors my experience with African students: even if they’ve never SEEN statistics in their lives, they persevere in my class and finish with top scores. And they’re already EDUCATED; they’re well-read and thoughtful, adding significantly to class discussion and student interaction. I love ’em.

  2. I wonder if there are such things as “education” degrees among the teachers in Abdul’s old school in Africa.

    Somehow I doubt it. Maybe this is related to the seriousness of the education provided.

  3. Wayne Martin says:

    > I wonder if there are such things as “education”
    > degrees among the teachers in Abdul’s old school in Africa.

    Probably not.

    But their are other things that kids don’t have in Africa either: cars, cell-phones, televisions, MTV, beer, drugs, parties, $200 running shoes .. and any number of other distractions.

  4. As Sierra Leone has a 30% literacy rate (20% for women, 40% for men,) I can’t join in the praise.

    If the US had no public schools, we might be able to attain such numbers. Just think of it! Only the upper class educated! No need to worry about any such thing as national literacy! (sarcasm intended)

  5. The US, at least in certain school districts, comes fairly close to matching the literacy rates found in Sierra Leone. I’m pretty sure though that Sierra Leone doesn’t spend nearly as much to attain its level of illiteracy as those school districts in the US spend to attain their’s.

  6. I very much doubt that Sierra Leone educates anything but the top 1% of their students. Pretty easy to move quickly if the class is all smart kids.

  7. Wayne Martin says:

    > If the US had no public schools, we might
    > be able to attain such numbers. Just think of it!
    > Only the upper class educated! No need to worry
    > about any such thing as national literacy! (sarcasm intended)

    Just to remind folks that literacy in the British Colonies and then the United States was always fairly high and not limited to the “upper class”:

    “In 1650, male literacy in America was 60%. Between 1800 and 1840, literacy in the Northern States increased from 75% to 90%, and in Southern States from 60% to 81%. These increases transpired before the famous Common School Movement led by Horace Mann caught steam. Massachusetts had reached a level of 98% literacy in 1850.”

    (From an article on the Mises.org WEB-site.)

  8. i wish we can have better school in sierra leone an a sierra leoen too. i live in the u.s.

  9. I’m 16 i learn in Harare Zimbabwe and understand the drive of this young man fron Sierra Leone. I ve cellphones, i have access to Mtv,i could get$200 running shoes if i wanted, and im getting a car in a couple of months but i work had like this guy in hope to do something with my life, making education my foundation. Its not the distractions it’s being mature and seeing beyon them that counts.

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