SEATTLE — A developing nation on the Southeastern coast of Africa, Mozambique continually struggles with high poverty rates. A colony of Portugal until 1975, the country is still in its post-independence infancy and has struggled through multiple wars and broken remnants of colonization. Yet, among widespread issues with government, health and natural disasters, arguably one of the country’s most broken sectors is education. To learn more about education in Mozambique, The Borgen Project spoke with Kelly Cannon, a volunteer in the Peace Corps in the country from 2014 – 2017.
Biggest Obstacles to Education in Mozambique
Even though education in Mozambique ranks 21st in the world as a percentage of national GDP, the literacy rates and school life expectancy numbers do match up to this statistic. Furthermore, men have far more access to education than women in the country; as of 2017, females only have a 50.3% literacy rate and men have a 72.6% literacy rate.
One of the biggest problems with education in Mozambique is cheating, which is widely accepted in the country. Cheating takes many forms throughout the country, even in the form of teachers soliciting sex from young girls in exchange for good grades.
“There’s a huge culture of cheating that’s also accepted and perpetuated by many of the teachers [in Mozambique],” said Kelly Cannon, who worked as a schoolteacher as her Peace Corps project. Cannon further explained how Mozambique’s Ministry of Education often prioritizes funding to schools with higher grades, which results in school teachers feeling like they have to let their students cheat in order to receive benefits.
In addition, many young Mozambicans are forced to drop out of school at young ages. In particular, childhood pregnancy is a significant obstacle to continuing girls’ education since “at least one in 10 girls (14%) has had a child before the age of 15, and 57% before age 18.” In addition, child marriage rates in Mozambique are the 10th highest in the world, which also takes many young girls out of school.
Furthermore, insufficiency and poor teaching structure is a major issue in education. Approximately two-thirds of schoolchildren leave primary school without basic literacy and reading and writing skills. Furthermore, one USAID study found that only 30 of the 193 school days in a Mozambican school year are actually utilized due to various structural constraints and absent teachers.
All of these major, systemic issues with education in Mozambique can be tied back to the country’s widespread poverty. More than 50% of Mozambicans live below the poverty line, thus resulting in children being forced to drop out of school to support their families or start their own.
Organizations and Programs Aiding Mozambican Education
During her time in Mozambique, Cannon co-ran a Peace Corps program for young women in Mozambique called REDES – which stands for the Portuguese phrase “Rapariga em Desenvolvimento Educação e Saúde” and translates to “Girls in Development, Education and Health.” As one of the many programs devoted to improving education in Mozambique, REDES specifically works with small groups of 10-12 middle school-aged girls. The program was birthed out of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn Initiative, which allocated more than $1 billion to more than 50 countries around the world to develop women’s education.
“We did a lot of different things from talking about childhood pregnancy, helping them start a little business in the community, playing sports with them and having conversations on race, drugs, sex and anything that they felt comfortable to talk about,” said Cannon of her work with REDES.
REDES currently has more than 50 groups spread across all 10 Mozambican provinces. The program also helps young women learn to participate in the economy through jewelry making, sewing, cooking and agriculture. It also prepares women for professional careers through public speaking workshops and computer skills.
Cannon also worked as an English teacher in Mozambique’s Tete region. Since both Cannon and young Mozambican schoolchildren struggled with the Portuguese lingua franca, Cannon focused on “the small wins” by teaching her students how to make and use flashcards for studying. One of her colleagues also taught basic programs like Microsoft Word.
Many other groups are doing similar work in Mozambique to assist education. “Code” is a nonprofit organization working “to enable student learning by increasing their access to qualified educators and locally-relevant, high-quality learning materials” around the world. In 2015, Code began its “BETTER Mozambique” program which aims to improve child education by training teachers across more than 150 schools. Teacher training is especially important in Mozambique specifically; as of 2018, Mozambique had a rate of 55 students per teacher. Training teachers also promotes long-term sustainability in international education intervention.
Code’s program will last until 2022 (pending potential delays from the COVID-19 pandemic), and the Mozambican Ministry of Education and Human Development is hopeful to expand teacher-training programs to all major regions in the country. Throughout all of its programs, Code has reached 1 million students and 24,000 teachers. Code’s website also states that “students in Code programs are significantly outperforming control schools.”
Though Mozambique is still struggling with an unstable education system, the country is making steady improvements and the number of children in school has dramatically increased (number of total children in school rose by more than 100,000 since 2017). With continuing aid programs and grassroots mobilization, education in Mozambique can hopefully see further improvement.
– Grace Ganz
Photo: Photos courtesy of Kelly Cannon