"I don't know why you Americans treat your puils the way you do," said Ruth Wikedzi, the principal of a high school in Tanzania. "Why do you think they are such delicate things? After lunch, they don't clean up after they eat. At night they don't seem to have much homework - Sometimes you let them graduate whether they do the work or not, or whether they are capable or not. It's not like that in my country."
For the past two months, Wikedzi, along with nine other educators from African countries, has been visitings school's across the United States, including some in the Washington area.
In interviews at the end of their trip last week, most of the visitors were impressed with the large school buildings they went through, the small-sized classes, and the books and scientific equipment that were far more plentiful than what they have at home.
But not everything they saw and heard impressed them. Most said there are things about schools in their own countries that they prefer to what schools are doing in the United States.
For example, in all 10 African countries represented, ranging from Cameroon to South Africa and Zaire, high school students have to pass national examination to get their diplomas in contrast to the system in American schools where graduation depends on teachers' grades.
"How do you know whether the A that a student gets from one school isn't worth the same as the C that a student gets from another school?"said Lydia Lantum, a ministry of education official in Cameroon.
"There ought to be some system so you can know which students are achieving and which ones aren't. If they all take one examination then you know what it means," she said.
"In my country," she added, "we treat your pupils the way you do," said publish the results and tell what percentage pass in different schools . . . If the standards drop, people tend to move their children to other schools."
"If all people (take) the same examination, then they can be accepted everywhere," said Grace Khuzwayo, a vice principal of Menzi High School in Durban, South Africa. "The (national) exams make both the pupils and the teachers work hard, because they know they have to pass."
In all their countries, the African educators said, examination results are not only used as the standard for high school graduation, but also as the basis for admission to colleges.
The visiting educators - including teachers, principals, and officials of national departments of education - started their two month trip in Washington in mid-September. Then the group split into pairs who travelled to cities, surburbs and small towns across the country from Hingham, Mass., to Portland, Ore. They reassembled in Washington last week to hear lectures on educational administration and to evaluate their experiences.
The trip was paid for by the U.S. State Department and the American Association of University Women, which has been sponsoring similar visits by African educators - all women - since 1963.
Among the differences the educators noted between schools in America and those in their own countries were the following:
Children in American schools don't wear uniforms; those in African schools generally do.
"Your young people seem to prefer to be shabbily dressed," said Khuzwayo, "and it seems like they can do most anything they like. If there are uniforms, the students look like students, and they take pride in what they are."
Class size in most American schools they visited was much smaller than the 35 to 40 students usually found in African classrooms. Often classes in Africa have about 50 students per teacher, the educators said, because of a shortage of schools and teachers, in contrast to the surplus of both in the United States.
"It's not a good situation (to have big classes)," said Wikedzi. "But whether we like it or not, there's no immediate solution. There's such a demand. But the people don't complain, and the children learn."
Discipline in American schools is far more lax.
"The students in the schools we visited were very noisy," Widedzi said. "In the halls they keep talking loudly even when they see a teacher. Sometimes they almost bumped their shoulders into us. In Tanzania there's more respect."
"Children will be children everywhere," said Ida Guma from Swaziland. "But in our schools we don't have any serious problems. The parents have to pay school fees, and if the children don't hehave, they have to give their place to someone else."