Being a High School Student in Mali

This year, Mali Rising began providing scholarships to some of our most outstanding middle school graduates. These scholarships include a chance to attend vocational training or a chance to go on to high school. We asked our current Communications Intern, Salifou, to describe what high school is like for a young Malian.

By Salifou Fofana
Mali Rising Intern

High school years were the best years of my life. I am sure there is a great chance that this might or might not be your case because we all have had different experience with our high school years. Some have had the best years, and for some it was the worst years. For me high school was definitely one of the best experience of my life; one that I will narrate to my children and grandchildren, from my relation with my teachers to my relation with other students. Everyone was my friend from the school principal to the students.

At the beginning, it was not easy for me because I was a quiet kid who would only talk to others if they talked to me.  We had also just moved to a new district and I knew no one yet. So I had to adapt to the new environment.My freshmen year was the election year, so the main discussion was the American election. Everyone loved Barack Obama in my high school. One of my classmate looked exactly just like a young Obama. So one day in class, we had a group project and I couldn’t remember his name, so I called him Obama. He turned around surprised and asked me why I called him Obama. I told him it was because I thought he looked just like him. Other students confirmed that he looked like Obama. From that day, I called him Obama and everyone else called him Obama even the teachers and the principle. He was also now my best friend. He definitely made high school more fun for me. We were always together and during lunch time we were always a group of six having lunch, 2 girls and 4 boys. Everyone knew us because our lunch spot was by the stairs, so everyone passing would see us.

Although I was a quiet kid at the beginning, I began to open up more and more especially in class. My favorite course was philosophy because I love to debate (no wonder why my major is now political science) and discuss about anything in life. My favorite philosopher was Epicurus because I believe that it is important to enjoy the necessary things in life rather than the non-necessary.

Talking about my personal view of my high school years, I think I was a good student. Even though I played soccer at school and I was in a soccer club, I still managed to have good grades and come up as second or first of classes.

 Salifou's proud mother with her three sons. Something that is the same in Mali and the US: parents are proud when their children excel in school!

Salifou's proud mother with her three sons. Something that is the same in Mali and the US: parents are proud when their children excel in school!

Being first or second of my classes at the end of the year made my mother proud because in Mali it is a big thing to be able to say your son or daughter was first or second of his class. This was my number one motivation to study because it was important for me to make my mother proud after everything she had done for me and my brothers. Also, the fact that she never told me to do my homework or study showed me that she trusted me, and I owed to be responsible enough to make her proud and have good grades.

High school in Mali is different from high school in the US because most of the students walk to school or ride a motorcycle (which I used to). High schools within Mali itself differ too. If you went to high school in the capital city Bamako, you are more likely to have a better education than someone who went to high school in a non-urban area. Students in non-urban areas usually have to walk miles to go to school. Walking so many miles to school makes it hard for them to focus in class, especially girls because they have to take care of domestic tasks after school. Girls don’t really have much time to do homework in non-urban areas and even in some places in Bamako. This explain the gap between boys and girls, because boys on the other side do not have to worry about domestic tasks.

Now, talking about another difference between the high school in the two countries, I think studying in Mali is harder than the US. There are not a lot of resources at your disposal, so students in Mali have to work twice as much as students in here. For example, for the exams, students have to memorize all of the course materials. There is not such thing as study guide or anything like that. Most high school have 5 to 6 classes everyday. Also in high schools in Mali it is very rare to see students bullying other students. That’s the main reason suicide rate among students is very low.