Monday, 7 July 2008

Bruceyv the exam detective....

June 30th

I decide to get busy and spend the entire day looking at Tronc Commun (key stage 3) results in my District schools last year. This rapidly becomes a detective exercise. It just shows how arcane the Rwandan education system is. Children do public exams at the end of Tronc Commun, in Maths, French, Kinya-rwanda, English, Physics, Chemistry, Geography, History and Biology. These are all marked with letter grades such as D+ or B-. But the overall grade is a numerical one, ranging from 9.9 for genius level (only 1 of these in the District) to 0.4 for someone who doesn’t know what day of the week it is. However, there is some complicated weighting system in use, and try as I might I can’t work out how they’ve transferred marks from letter to numbers. I know that Chemistry has been weighted heavier than Maths (OK, but why Chemistry?), but even the weighting system doesn’t seem consistent. Neither Claude, nor anyone else in the office, nor any of the secteur reps who breeze in from time to time during the day can explain it to me. Eventually I decide to make up my own scoring system – you can’t cope with letter grades if you’re doing statistical analysis. As long as I’m consistent within my own work then I’ll be able to compare subjects within a school, and between schools.

What all this is trying to do (apart from keep me busy during a long period of down time) is to see how effective the secondaries are at teaching both as complete schools and as subjects within schools.

And I straight away find that at Rongi secondary school, out in the wilds, the most successful subject at Tronc Commun is English. Yet at primary school level you find that English is almost invariably the worst taught subject and with the poorest results. I feel as though I’m opening a Pandora’s Box here, and that all sorts of murky issues are bubbling up to the surface. Something’s awry with Kinyarwanda teaching at Rongi because the marks are all a grade or so lower than for other subjects.

And the pass rate at my secondary schools ranges from 80% (private, Catholic, boys only) to about 8% (private, girls only).

Eventually I’ll be able to produce charts and graphs for every one of these schools to show their strengths and weaknesses. Nobody has time to do this at the moment, and in particular while secondary schools presumably do some sort of analysis of their own strengths and weaknesses, they don’t have the means to compare themselves with others locally, especially at subject level. In other words, it may well be that one of the differences I can make as a volunteer is to let, say, a Chemistry teacher in a weak school know where the strong chemistry departments are, and facilitate some visits or mentoring between the two places.

Tom and I both work a long day today; we both get back home tired and neither of us has been to the market to buy food. We ransack the fridge and food cupboard and get to work on a tin of pilchards, a small tin of baked beans and a tin of tomato paste. Mix these up and add curry powder and you get a surprisingly effective fish curry. Add turmeric rice and a mixture of cabbage and celery and we end up with a really pleasant meal. As we seem to be on a roll we even have pudding (rare for us) – a stale mandazi, sliced in hot custard and served with lashings of jam. Fab!

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