Published on Nasikiliza

Learning under the trees in Ongiva

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I started working in Angola just before the peace treaty was signed in 2002. Luanda was a dangerous city at the time, and armed youths were a common sight on the street corners. Traveling within the country was almost impossible as roads were either destroyed or mined. The authorities had little control over service delivery, and in many provinces, the population had migrated and there were very few villages left. But now, nine years after the peace treaty, Angola is a very different country. It is about this new country that I want to tell you, about a school in one of the most remote villages in Angola, where a silent revolution is taking place – a learning revolution.Lucinda Alves with her students at the Caxila school in Ongiva

I must first introduce you to Lucinda Alves, a primary school teacher. Lucinda is 26 years old, and like many of her fellow villagers, returned to Ongiva, in the southern province of Cunene, after the war. After attending eight years of school, she is now a primary school teacher. She is one of about 70,000 new teachers who were recruited by the Ministry of Education between 2004 and 2008. Like many of her colleagues all over the country, Lucinda is an auxiliary teacher. This is a new teacher category that is supposed to include those with a minimum qualification of 12 years of schooling and no pedagogical training. The next category, teacher with a diploma, allows auxiliary teachers to upgrade their academic and pedagogical qualifications and develop their careers. All teachers in Lucinda’s school are auxiliary including the head teacher.

Lucinda teaches a class of about 35 or 40 students of different ages. She teaches in her own village and parents like her because she is always at school, which is not always the case when teachers do not live in the same village.

Lucinda's school is open-air. Yes, open-air. Not quite the definition of school that you might be used to. But what impressed me so much is that it is better structured than many physical schools. Each tree that you see in the picture defines a class. Each class has a different teacher; all students know their teachers well, and follow a class time table, and Lucinda knows all the parents of her children and the reasons why children drop out or are absent. Lucinda’s school was opened at the request of a small community that wanted their children to learn. Six years of primary education is now compulsory and free in Angola. New children continue to come and the school is growing. Lucinda is motivated and so are her children. Of course she would like to teach indoors, but her main objective is for her students to learn.

Statistics in Angola are still quite a challenge, but it is safe to say that from 2002 to 2008, strong investment in education has led to a phenomenal expansion of primary education. In fact, Angola has now caught up with most other Sub-Saharan countries. Although still dealing with an expanding system, the Angolan authorities do not want to continue focusing exclusively on infrastructure – there is a very strong commitment to improve the quality of the educational services delivered to students, and especially to ensure student learning. Thus, the same Ministry that nine years ago did not have full control of education service delivery is now reaching the most remote villages in the country and is even assessing their children’s learning outcomes!

Lucinda’s class was part of an early grade reading assessment that is ongoing in Angola with the support of the World Bank through the Russian Education Aid for Development (READ) Trust Fund. And I can tell you, a silent learning revolution has started – many like Lucinda feel empowered and hopeful that even if no school is built in their village, they will be able to work to ensure that their students can read. Lucinda wanted to use the reading assessment in her own class and she is now waiting for more information on teaching and learning techniques that can help make sure all of her pupils learn to read.

The early grade assessment is being implemented by Angolans under the supervision of the Ministry assessment team. As the Vice-Minister for Education told me, “there is always someone else doing the work for us, and our team never really got their hands dirty; this is want we want: to learn and to do.” This exercise is also bringing the Ministry closer to the villages of Angola. Ongiva had never been visited before by Ministry staff. There is a momentum being built through the empowerment of all education actors. A literacy campaign is under preparation, and the World Bank, building on the READ work, is helping the Ministry prepare a project that exclusively focuses on quality interventions to improve teaching and learning. Momentum needs to be kept up to make sure the silent learning revolution does not fade away. Angola cannot afford to lose Lucinda and many others like her who wish to help all Angolan children achieve reading literacy to contribute to Angola's sustained development, and its steady transition to a more transparent and equitable society.

After all, ensuring learning for all children in Angola, as elsewhere, is the true basis of positive change.


Cristina Santos

Senior Education Specialist

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