Nureen and I met on a bus in April 2013. She was speaking English with her friends and when we got off at the same stop I asked her why. She said it’s because her high school is terrible and even though her teachers are supposed to teach in English they do everything in Swahili. She said she went to a great primary school and didn’t want to lose all of the English she learned so she and her friends practice together. As we walked down the road together talking, I was so impressed with her. Nureen said she wants to be a doctor and as we parted off the road I even got a little teary eyed as I told her that she is amazing and I have no doubt that she’ll be a doctor someday.
Fast forward several months later I went to a primary school to interview their top students for the organization where I’m working. The headmistress starts casually chatting and tells me that it’s a shame the organization only selects girls in their last year of primary school because there’s a girl who graduated the year prior and it’s so sad because she could only attend government high school and she’s now #1 in her class out of about 400 students but isn’t being challenged. She said the girl sometimes comes to visit her crying because her teachers don’t show up to class. The headmistress said the girl was #1 in her class all throughout primary school and that in her last year she would give the girl math problems of 3rd year high school students and she would get them all right! She said the girl lives with her grandmother and is very poor and that the school decided to sponsor her and allow her to continue studying there after she became unable to pay school fees because she was so bright they just couldn’t bear to kick her out. I asked her name… and she said “Nureen.” I couldn’t believe it – it’s the same girl I met on the bus months before.
Meet Nureen and Listen to Her Story
I think the reason why I became teary eyed upon our first meeting when I told Nureen I have “no doubt” she’ll become a doctor someday, is because I knew it was a lie. The reality is that in Tanzania, kids from government schools don’t often become doctors. This is because most government schools don’t get through the curriculum due to teachers not showing up for class (in one of Nureen’s classes the teacher didn’t show up for an entire month), being poorly prepared, and as in Nureen’s case being on a split schedule where students are only taught for half a day due to lack of teachers. This curriculum is on the national exam that’s necessary to pass in order to continue to the second half of high school (called A levels). The pass rate for the exam is abysmal (in 2012 about 80% of students failed). And the few that do pass and move on to A levels are almost exclusively from private schools. Therefore, regardless of how incredibly brilliant Nureen is, remaining in a government school practically guarantees that she’ll never achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. Which is not only terrible for her, but for her country because I’m certain she would be an amazing doctor. She is so bright and it’s being wasted in a terrible school where her teachers don’t even show up.