|The Courier N° 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid - Country Reports: Soa Tomé- Principe- Senegal (EC Courier, 1992, 96 p.)|
by Norman SOWERBY
Twelve youngsters from Mozambique and Angola are settling down, under a project started this year by the European Community, to an education they had previously only dreamed of.
The project was set up with a ECU 1 695 000 grant from the LomV regional programme. The need came about because, according to EC sources, in most southern African countries secondary education suffers from serious shortages of qualified mathematics and science teachers, and from a lack of laboratories, scientific equipment and school materials. The problem is acute in Angola and Mozambique, where the education systems have suffered, and continue to suffer, major disruptions. Few institutions in Angola and Mozambique are able to offer specialised degrees or postgraduate qualifications in science or engineering, and universities in the southern African region offer such courses only in the medium of English. Opportunities for Portuguese-speaking students are consequently limited.
This Lomroject aims to broaden these opportunities by preparing selected students for tertiary level studies in scientific and technical subjects, according to an EC spokesman in Swaziland, the small, independent southern African kingdom situated between Mozambique to the east and South Africa to the west.
Swaziland is also the home of Waterford-KaMhlaba United World College, which, in just 29 years since it was founded, has won a reputation for adventurous educational policies and high academic standards.
'It seemed the ideal school for a scholarship scheme aimed at Mozambican and Angolan youngsters who might not have had the best of chances because of circumstances in their own countries,' said the EC spokesman.
'The project provides scholarships for six Angolan and six Mozambican students each year, for three years. There is an initial one-year bridging course to prepare students for the international Baccalaureate (IB) programme. This is necessary for non-English speakers to perfect their knowledge of the language, and as a general acclimatisation to the school life and curriculum. After that year, successful students will begin the two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) programme.'
The Waterford project offers more than a fine educational opportunity.
The school is a member of the seven-member, worldwide United World Colleges movement, which was established in September 1962, when the first sixth-form college opened in Wales, U.K. This was followed by UWC South East Asia in Singapore (1972), Lester Pearson UWC in British Columbia, Canada, UWC Waterford KaMhlaba of southern Africa (1981), UWC Adriatic of Italy (1982), UWC Armand Hammer of the American West, in New Mexico (1982), and UWC Simon Bolivar of Venezuela (1988).
The UWC philosophy common to these seven widely-dispersed schools is to make education an active force in uniting nations and peoples, according to the founders. Member schools 'seek to develop not only intellectual and aesthetic potential, but the moral qualities of courage, compassion, cooperation, perseverance and respect for skill which are vital to any training in active citizenship and service to the community.' So, a student moving from Canada's Lester Pearson UWC to, say, the Singapore UWC, will find the same values being taught there. But, naturally, the seven world schools differ.
Waterford KaMhlaba, established in 1963 in Swaziland, is one of only two UWCs which are not exclusively sixth-form colleges, but take pupils from the age of about 11. UWC Singapore is the other. Waterford's founding in the tiny independent state of Swaziland was one of the first acts of defiance against the now discredited policy of apartheid in the neighbouring Republic of South Africa.
To the shock of many whites in the region, it vowed to accept pupils regardless of colour or creed.
When the school opened there were 16 pupils - boys - and six staff. The classrooms were rondavels, small, round, clay and wattle branch buildings with thatched roofs.
Today there are 400 pupils, boys and girls, of more than 40 world nationalities ranging from American to Zimbabwean. About 45% of them, according to school figures, are South Africans of all racial groups. The largest nationality group is Swazi, making up 23% of the total. Many of the pupils have won scholarships.
There are 35 members of staff, again of many nationalities. Numbers in each class are a luxurious 28 or fewer, and the amenities are described as adequate in First World terms, privileged in Third World terms.
The school founders said in 1963 that there 'was a vital need to establish a school in the region where the only criteria for admission would be academic merit and character reference, and where colour, religion and ability to pay the fees would play no part in the admissions policy.'
The school was first named Waterford for practical reasons. The man who sold the land to the school founders was Irish, and he had named the area after his home county in Ireland.
In 1967 the then Swazi head of state, King Sobhuza, visited the school. He noted the wide range of nationalities among the pupils, and remarked: 'Why, it is a world in miniature ...' So came the Swazi name KaMhlaba, The Little World, or World in Miniature, and it is now officially known as Waterford-KaMhlaba, or WK.
From the start it attracted pupils from a South Africa still in the grip of apartheid. So, a tradition of political awareness in the school today comes as no surprise.
One current pupil is Mandla Mandela, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela's grandson, and other members of the Mandela family have been through the Waterford experience.
After a recent visit to the school Mandela wrote to headmaster Richard Eyeington: 'We are very interested in the United World Colleges movement. The ANC has pledged to inculcate a culture of education in South Africa, and we have many lessons to learn from your successful experiment in non-racial education.'
The school magazine, Phoenix, is named after the legendary bird which is also the school emblem. It symbolises hope rising from the ashes of discredited segregational education, one of the founders once explained.
Phoenix includes pupils' accounts of typical school activities, such as the biology field trip to the South African coast, an arts festival, open day (the Swazi Prime Minister came), the school play (Shakespeare's Measure for Measure) and a sports competition in Lesotho.
But the casual reader is constantly reminded that Phoenix is slightly different from the usual school may, for instance, by unusual tributes in a column on former pupils.
* the release from prison in South Africa of Roland Hunter. Roland was imprisoned for five years under the Defence Act. He passed on to Frelimo (the ruling party in neighbouring Mozambique) details of the support the South African government was giving to the rebel movement Renamo in Mozambique.
* the sentencing to 15 years in a South African prison of ex-student Susan Westcott. Susan was communications officer in the anti-apartheid Broederstroom ANC cell.' (Susan Westcott has since been freed following more relaxed conditions in South Africa since the release of Nelson Mandela and the un-banning of the ANC.)'
The Chess Club and Astronomy Club compete for members with Waterford's own branch of Amnesty International.
This is the atmosphere six young Angolans and six young Mozambicans are currently soaking up in their preparatory year before the IB course.
Six months after starting their bridging year, they commented with enthusiasm on the free interaction and wide range of nationalities.
One Angolan said: 'When we came we didn't speak English, and everyone said 'Hi' to us. We did not know even what it meant then. Everyone is so friendly. I did not know any South African before I came here. Our countries were at war. Now I have South African friends.'
A major impression is the standard of teaching and the availability of materials. Hermenegildo Bambo, aged 18, of Inhambane province in Mozambique, told us: 'At my old school we had no pencils, no books. Here there is everything we need.'
Dulcidio Francesco of Gaza province in Mozambique said: 'Before I came here, if you wanted to ask a question, you asked the teacher in class. Here you can go to a teacher at night, any time, and ask your question. They explain very well.'
Vladimir Kiluanje Saraiva, of Luanda, in Angola, spoke of Waterford's atmosphere. 'It is international. The people who come here learn to live with other people, from other continents. There is no difference in race. Also, we are learning English. That means that if I am going to university I have a bigger choice.'
Both the Angolan and the Mozambican governments have an agreement with the students that they will return to their countries after their studies to put to good use what they have learned. Apart from English, an essential learning tool, the Lomponsored students concentrate on the sciences.
Lidia Fernandes from Angola said that before acceptance at Waterford she, like the others, did tests in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and English. 'Next year I want to start the IB course, for two years, and then I want to go to university and study civil engineering. Then I want to go back to Angola to work in building construction.'
A teacher who is particularly close to the group in their bridging year said they are highly motivated, constantly enquiring. 'They ask for a wide range of people to come and speak to them, to widen their knowledge of English and of general subjects.
'But they have had traumatic experiences. Some are under tremendous pressure. One boy arrived from Mozambique to start the course with no luggage, just the clothes he was wearing. We found money to buy him more clothes.
'Swaziland is only a couple of hours by road from Maputo, but the children have to fly because vehicles using the road are under regular bandit attack.
'Last Easter holidays the mother of another Mozambican boy was abducted by bandits to the north of Maputo when he was at home there. He's back at school now, but he still does not know where his mother is, or if she is alive.'