Saturday, July 09, 2011

Being The Day-time Watchman

Our semester is coming to a close here on campus and with that ending comes the Cape Coast exams that test whether the students understand the concepts and minutia of teaching in Ghana. While first-years and second-years are busy writing away, the school provides for invigilators, those whose job it is to watch and make sure that there is no talking or helping during the examination time. I did a little bit of that twice already, and next week I will stare at two more groups of students as they disgorge all that they have studied in the preceding four months.

There is a very good reason for the invigilation. Everyone helps out in Ghana. If your family doesn't have enough food, the families right next door are there to lend you a hand. If you didn't have a place to stay then someone will learn of your plight and give you a roof and a bed and you will be happy. It is a very good ethos to have in a country, except when examining what you do and don't know. Then it becomes a bit of a challenge.

Most of the students that I have viewed are trying their best and doing their own work without a moment's hesitation which is terrific. It is maybe 10% of the group that will find ways to "help" out their neighbors on certain questions. Many times when I have been with other volunteers who are teachers we have relayed stories of what kinds of cheating go on in the classroom, but for the most part in the junior high and senior high school levels there is not a lot of good cheating going on. Many people will cheat off of another student who had absolutely no idea what the answer was either. The best example I can come up with for this was a bonus question that a volunteer told me was on an exam. What day is October 31st in America? He had told them briefly that it was Halloween, but felt that only the most attentive student might remember such a very strange name. The answer on most, but not all, tests was: "Children Happy Fun Day".

Back to my group this past Friday. The students are arranged by their class identification number and the test is two hours long. Our classroom sat through a music exam and it was a bit tough to keep the talking to a minimum as the exam began with music blaring through a loudspeaker so that they could be quizzed on what type of music so-and-so was, or the number of phrases that were just played twenty seconds ago. When the music came on I could see heads turn and possible mouths move to ask what the answer to number three was. It was hard to keep the class in order for the first 30 minutes, more so when one of the questions on their paper did not match the queue announced on the audio tape (question 5a and 5b were actually 7a and 7b on their papers).

After the first part of the test was over, things settled down. I am not sure if my new rule helped matters at all, but I informed the whole group that I was going to use a yellow card and a red card to enforce the no-talking rule. Everyone is familiar with yellow and red cards here from soccer, and they understood that if I wrote down their student ID number then they were in a bit of trouble, especially if they got a red card. Fortunately I was able to keep the red card in my pocket (I actually didn't have a red card, just a yellow sticky note) and only gave yellow cards to four students.

My guess is that they don't like me invigilating but that is too bad. Rules are rules and I'd rather every student try their honest best and get what they deserve than have 10 or 15 students do all the work and the rest copy their answers.

As the test came to a close I felt a bit of relief as my legs and back were tired from standing around doing nothing. There will be two more exams that I oversee in the coming week and then the students are home free and I am left with a quiet campus again. Just don't let me catch you talking during test time.

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