Atlanta on my mind – in a Tanzanian classroom

Four-year-old Briton Joseph is so close in age to uncles Bill, 9, and Igey, 7, it's hard not to constantly compare the young illegal alien's life in Tanzania with theirs in the US.

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    Toni (center) and his classmates – and there are 60 of them with two teachers in one room – at the Mapiduzi school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
    Mary Wiltenburg
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    The Mapiduzi school, where Toni attends.
    Mary Wiltenburg
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    Toni's teacher leads the class in chanting call-and-response exercises at Mapinduzi school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
    Mary Wiltenburg
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Four-year-old Briton Joseph is so close in age to uncles Bill, 9, and Igey, 7, it's hard not to constantly compare the young illegal alien's life in Tanzania with theirs in the US.

The contrast was much on my mind today [April 17; posting delayed due to Internet access], when I visitedBriton, whom all his friends call Toni, in his one-room school in Dar es Salaam.

More than 60 kids, all aged 3 to 5, packed the green-and-white-walled classroom on benches and hard metal chairs. At the front, a large chalkboard displayed numbers 1 through 20. Under the supervision of two teachers, the kids learned mostly by rote, through songs and chants, some of which they demonstrated. (Listen at right.)

Language and time made it impossible for me to judge much about the school, but many of the kids seemed engaged. Toni, at the far edge of the room, was distracted by my appearance, but his copy-books show his

schoolwork progressing. Since January, he's mastered the concept of writing between lines, and his "O's" are taking shape. His lowercase "A's" are still looking more like capital "Q's." But his practice books are full of encouraging red checks.

After spending most of a year at Bill and Igey's International Community School outside Atlanta, though, I couldn't help contrasting the open-ended question-asking his uncles encounter on that school's leafy green campus with the kind of education Toni's beginning here. His teachers seem kind, but their building and student-teacher ratio makes ICS, with its serious facilities challenges, look like educational paradise.Then again, every day at lunchtime, Toni and neighbor Suzi trot home with their copybooks to make that day's vowels. Igey's first-grade teachers have said they'd be thrilled if he showed that kind of dedication to his homework. Maybe there's a middle ground?Want to show your dedication to us? Join us on Twitter for Little Bill Clinton in all its forms.Travel in Tanzania for this project is supported by The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, in Washington DC.

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