Many people I know of, especially at work, are completing part time courses at University. They range in what they are studying, but there are a few common themes. They all have English classes as a module, and all of the resources they are given are in English. English is the medium of instruction, after all.
Now, this is where the problem lies. I can’t speak for all the students, obviously, but many that I know of, who are completing these degrees, have English far below what is required to understand the course material. There’s no English ability prerequisite at all.
So, the course itself – this is often translated by the lecturer into Amharic (the federal language, but not actually the most commonly spoken one in this region). So I hope that the participants can at least understand in the lectures what is going on. Although those that come from Oromia, or small villages, of course can’t speak Amharic either…
The English classes – these do not seem to be graded at all, with all students thrown in together. A lot of the material is very grammatical, with a student I’ve been working with on giving personal information, (my name is…I live in….I am…. etc) has been rote learning the difference between different types of clauses in sentences, and learning to identify them by name, without really knowing what on earth they are on about. I struggled with this activity myself, and I’m not entirely sure I would have got all the answers right in a test.
Anyway, the reason for this blog post is that in the months I’ve been here, I’ve often been faced with a dilemma, and today I faced it once again. Getting the qualification of their degree or diploma is important, necessary, for many. But of course many don’t understand the basic assignments sent to them, and there seems to be little or no recognition of this from the side of the university. A few colleagues have asked for my help in the past, and I try to explain in the easiest possible way what it is they need to do, but I know that it’s not sufficient as we need to go right back to abcs, literally. A colleague of mine once asked me to proof read his work. I’m more than happy to do this, as I can explain small errors and hopefully he will learn. His English is good, it was very well written. “oh, I didn’t know you were studying at university” I said. “I’m not”, he said, “this is for my friend”.
After a brief discussion of plagiarism, importance of learning, quality and reliability of education and qualifications etc, he explained his cultural perspective. Ethiopians, from what I have observed, are amazing at helping each other out. There is a strong community spirit, and doing favours for people is common, a way of life, and considered by some a privilege to complete. So this colleague was writing the homework assignment for a friend, who has very little free time as she works in the day, and is busy in the evening cooking and looking after the family. Plus her English may not be of an adequate standard to be able to complete the assignment anyway. So as far as he is concerned, he is just helping her out. When I suggested he cook for her so that she can have time to study, well, that’s a whole other conversation.…But that’s not really the point, the level is so above what the students are capable of, that there’re very few solutions, of which copying from others, the internet or straight from a book is completely the norm.
Today’s example is one of my best friends here who is studying ICT, but has some modules in philosophy. The relevance of course, is questionable. The assignment is in English, which she doesn’t understand, and asks for her to write her own sentences, giving examples of deductive, inductive, sound deductive, cogent inductive, strong and uncogent inductive (etc etc) arguments. Her notes are all in English, copied from the board, and although she can recite what each is, she doesn’t understand it in any depth or cognitive way.
What am I supposed to do? One strategy for her and her colleagues is to type it into google, and see what comes up. Which she does, but with difficulty. Shall I help her with this? Should I research it for her? Can I write it for her even? I’m pretty sure the lecturers don’t even care how it’s done, as long as it’s done; the whole idea of plagiarism is so inherent here, that it’s practically the status quo. The whole system is so flawed, that although I know and strongly disagree with plagiarism and invalid assessment, if I wanted to help her truly I’d have to go right back to somewhere (where?!) at the beginning.