A Small Note on the School System

Somewhere along the way, someone decided to make English the national language of Vanuatu. In other words, they decided it would be the language they used to teach in schools. There’s a small problem with that. No one here actually speaks it.

Sure, they all can say the equivalent of what an American tourist learns to say in Italian before vacationing in Italy, but that’s the extent. So all of these kids must go learn, from kindergarten on, every single subject, in a tongue they’ve never spoken. In addition to this, they have parents that don’t care whether or not they go to school. I cannot think of a scenario more perfectly constructed to cause a kid to have absolutely no desire to ever go to school.

The challenges only begin there. The kids aren’t even taught how to read and write in their own language. And while most kids speak Bislama, some only speak the tongue of their town or island. To top it off, upon observation of a couple classes, I found numerous mistakes being made by the teachers, whose English is decent, at best.

The funniest part to me is that all the people training us always talk about how confused they are as to why the parents have no interest in their kids schoolwork or progress. Well, that’s probably because they have no freaking idea how to even begin comprehending what their child is learning.

I ask my host siblings every day- in Bislama mind you- what they learned in school that day. They can never tell me, or they offer me blank, confused stares, like they think that’s the stupidest question they’ve ever heard anyone ask. And I try for a second to imagine, at 6 years old, trying to learn in another language, when I have no idea how to express myself in my own language, and I can’t imagine it.

When I ask my trainers why they teach English here, they all have different answers for me. The core of it though, is because it’s better for the economy. This doesn’t comfort me. But because some of the kids don’t even speak Bislama, I feel like in the end, there is no solid argument against teaching English. The only thing I can really do is teach English as best as I can and hope that when those kids grow up, they can speak English with their own children. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal, but the options are minimal. So I’ll lower my eyebrows for now.