Monday, 5 October 2009

Marking tests

Sept 29th – October 2nd

These four days all blur into one. I’m in the office by seven o’clock each morning and spend all day every day marking the teacher tests. I cancel my Wednesday visits because at the end of Tuesday I begin to have worries as to whether we’ll be able to get the job done by the end of the week. (Kigali had assumed we would have the papers marked within 48 hours). 1700 tests at one minute each to mark, check, add up and put on a pile = well over 28 hours of work. But after about four hours you get tired and you start to make mistakes. Some places have detached the answer sheets from the questions; this makes them easier to mark. By the end of the day the floor around my desk is littered in piles of paper. It’s concentrated work, and by the end of the afternoon I’m shattered.

Soraya helps me for a couple of hours, but she’s got a heavy training schedule this week and is away up in Rongi most of the time. Likewise Claude pops in occasionally and grabs an armful of papers, but within five minutes his phone is ringing and he’s being called away to deal with some crisis. So most of the time I’m on my own. By the end of day one I’ve memorised the list of right answers and can do it in my sleep; by Wednesday night I’m even dreaming of sheets of paper floating past me, marking themselves by sheer force of my will….

Some things are amusing. I like it when I mark a paper from somebody I know. I mark all of Rutongo’s scripts, and Priscille’s from Jandari. I recognise most of my head teacher friends, too. Some people are very bright indeed and get 40/40. One of these is our friend Thomas, the head at Kibingo. His English is so polished and excellent that he’s asked Soraya to get him some novels in English to keep him up to scratch. (He’d love to be able to go to England and do a master’s degree in English there). My friend Raima from Ahazaza private school is a clear 40/40 and I’m gratified to find that Gratien, her second in command who I interviewed with her for the post, comes up trumps with 39.

Others are at the opposite extreme. In theory it should not be possible to get less than 10 correct, but many people manage to get a lot less. A couple of smart Alecs decide to opt out and ring every single “A” choice on the answer sheet. They all come in the lowest category when we divvy the teachers up for training. Everyone has complained that there wasn’t enough time for the test, and this is borne out by the dozens of people who did not finish. Some people have answered barely half the questions, probably painstakingly poring over every word. They have only done about twenty answers but have nearly all of them right.

It’s noticeable that the secondary teachers score a lot higher than the primary ones. And some of the more subtle effects of the Rwandan secondary school system are all too apparent. In previous years the most able students were all funnelled into doing either maths or the sciences for the final three years at secondary school. Even if they were gifted linguists as well as good mathematicians or scientists. Those pupils with more indifferent marks were guided into the humanities or literary specialisms. So what we find in these test results is that if you take the highest scoring ten per cent, they are overwhelmingly teaching maths and sciences in secondary schools. Meanwhile, of those teaching English in the primaries, and especially in years 1-3, a disproportionate number have dangerously low scores. In other words the people we are asking to start off our pupils’ knowledge of English are among those least equipped to do the job.

By mid-day Thursday the marking is finished, and I spend the rest of the day dividing up the papers by secteur and by school. Knowing how Rwanda works, tomorrow (Friday) I’ll have a steady stream of headteachers coming into my office to find out how their school did. (What they really want to know is how they did themselves). And so it happens. I tease a lot of the ones I know. Odette, from Butare school, knows she is not that strong in English; I tell her that she’s failed and that she’s got to repeat the year….. The other heads who have come into my office with her roar with laughter, not least because they know I’ve got this thing against redoublement so they know I’m only joking…..

Some of the older primary heads are very francophone and their English is extremely weak. Where they are paired up with one of the new tronc commun heads their lack of English doesn’t matter, but there are some individual schools where almost nobody is really fluent in English, and any number of schools where only one person could credibly be expected to sustain a conversation. It’s certainly laying bare the scale of the problem we’re facing; at the same time it speaks reams for the determination of these people that they have already soldiered on for almost an entire year teaching in English without any formal training.

The purpose of the test is to be able to divide teachers up into five levels of competence, from absolute beginners to those who are already fluent, and tailor their training accordingly. The fluent ones we will use as mentors to help the others; the problems will arise in those schools where nobody is fluent.

If I get time at the end of October I’d love to match the overall levels of English competence with the schools’ exam results and see to what extent there’s a match.

Of course, marking the papers is one thing. Recording the results is something else altogether. Kigali wants us to record by name, sex, school, level (primary or secondary), level of teaching qualification, subjects taught….. This will take forever. I’ve told Claude that I can’t afford the time to do it because it would take me away from school visits for the rest of the season. He agrees, and we are going to hire somebody to “faire le saisie” : to transcribe all the data onto computer. I’m mightily relieved because I have difficulty reading peoples’ curly script handwriting at the best of times, and I already know that many teachers have just left out details of themselves that they didn’t want to record. Things like their Christian names, qualifications, etc. There is a sum of money from Kigali for marking and recording; those districts which don’t have VSO volunteers will be struggling to get all their papers marked and done. I think that almost all the education manager volunteers we have in Rwandan have been working exactly the same as me all this week. I wonder if any of us will get any payment for all this extra work?

In the evenings I collapse and watch videos. On Piet’s hard drive there is the lovely “Pride and Prejudice” with Kiera Knightley. I just reach the good bit where Lizzy tells Darcy to get lost (standing in pouring rain beside one of the temples at Stourhead) when the programme stops; for some reason the second half is missing from the file. Curses!

I take a couple of test papers home. When Janine comes to do the cleaning I show one to her and she wants to take it home and do it; likewise Del drops by to tell me she’s applied for a job and she sits down and does the test there and then. She does a lot better than some of the teachers (but then, there are many of our teachers who are younger than she is).

And that’s it. Really. I suppose if you’re reading this it must seem a boring week, but some aspects of it have been fascinating and throw new light on the system here and how it works. I’m writing this late on Friday evening; Léonie and I were going out for brochettes and ibirayi to celebrate having survived another week; Léonie couldn’t come so I go with Soraya to “Green Garden” instead. There’s lots of lightning flickering around and we can see there’s a storm coming later in the evening. Unfortunately we get our timing wrong and the storm arrives just as we’re finishing eating. We’re marooned for a good two hours in the bar while a spectacular electrical show rages. The lightning is that lilac colour you get when it’s half hidden in the clouds, and is so continuous that even when the lights go out you can still easily see what you’re doing. It’s the best light show I’ve seen in ages. The rain is so heavy that conversation is impossible (“Green Garden” has a tin roof), and there’s no question of running the fifty yards or so to use the toilet! We are holed up in the bar until the rain finally seems to be easing off and then we make a dash for home. Even then, the lightning is still continuous and has moved on into the Ndiza mountains over towards my Rugendabari schools; delicate threads of forked lightning, sometimes three or four at a time, are snaking their way between cloud and cloud an between cloud and the mountain tops. I’m glad I’m not out exposed on the crest road this evening!

I’ve rung Père Edmond at Kanyanza and he’s agreed to let me stay at the presbytery next week to do Kiyumba schools, so I’m off to my third priests’ house in a month! And I’ve got Monday’s schools lined up; the rest of the week we’ll take a day at a time depending on the weather and the state of the roads up there.

One evening I text Soraya to see how she’s getting on up in Rongi; she texts me back to say she’s outside the presbytery, having visited the secondary school to talk to their pupils during the evening. She’s reading “Twilight”, a book about vampires, and the moonlight up there is so bright she can read the book by it. Seems very appropriate to me!

I’ve started posting blogs again, though I’m keeping two versions and I can assure you that what you’re reading here is only the half of things. At the moment here in Gitarama we have one volunteer with a semi-permanent tummy bug, one with giardia, one with typhoid, and me with chronic dehydration. The water’s gone off again because of the lack of rain, and we’re all reduced to bucket showers and hoarding jerry cans of water – and we’re supposed to be in the middle of the long rains.

Best thing about today – getting a long and tedious job done. Looking forward to being up country next week. Tomorrow is Jeanne Remezo’s wedding and a chance to escape from Gitarama for a day.

Finally, having got to my emails in a break from marking scripts, I would like to thank all of you who have written to me with messages of support for the blog. Thank you, all of you – I really appreciate (and needed) that!

No comments: