Monday, October 31, 2011

Testing Season

Term 2 of the school year in Samoa is interrupted by mid-year exams. It takes a good two weeks out of the schedule to give the exams, grade the exams, write out the grades on a report card, send the report cards home with kids, then meet with parents about them the next day.

Term 3 has about 4 weeks of actual class, then 4 weeks of exams, then 4 weeks of prize-giving preparation. It’s not really 4 weeks of exams, but it’s pretty darn close. First comes the week of national exams for Year 8 (which are supposedly being phased out and this year is the last year they will give the national exams to Year 8). From then on, Year 8 doesn’t really do anything at school except play volleyball. Normally, final exams for the rest of the school would follow immediately after national exams, but they are delayed by two weeks this year due to training for the new curriculum being rolled out by MESC. So then we will go through another two weeks of writing exams, giving exams, scoring exams, sending scores home, then meeting with parents. I’m not sure exactly what we will do after that, but from what I can gather from my students, it will mostly consist of practicing songs, hymns, prayers, and dramas to perform at prize-giving. I haven’t been to a prize-giving yet, but it’s kind of like a graduation ceremony, except it’s a really big deal. Everybody knows who is first, second, third, etc. down to last in the entire year. Students receive prizes if they make the top 3 (or 5, or however many prizes can be afforded), and there is an obscene amount of candy.

I have to admit, I’ll be a little happy if this year really is the last year for national exams for year 8. They are a huge fa’alavelave (disturbance), and all fa’alavelaves are marked by massive amounts of food. The year 8 teachers were all sent to a different school in the district to proctor the exams – they couldn’t proctor the exams for their own students, which makes sense. So every morning we would greet the year 8 teacher and the principal from a different school in our district, they would get a huge breakfast, then MESC would deliver the standardized test for the day. Once the proctors went into the classrooms, the other teachers would go in to eat the breakfast left-overs, of which there were always plenty. The classrooms had to be specially prepared for national exams. At my school, it involved taping up brown newsprint across every inch of wall. At other schools, this involved ripping down every single poster and paper covering the walls. I like the method at my school better – my visual aids stayed intact. Two hours were carefully marked out for each exams (proctors marked time left on the blackboard by intervals of 10 minutes, starting from 120), then all the students would go home, and there was another feast for lunch. The teachers at my school had a good time trying to get me to talk to every single male that entered the school (we had several guests every day for the week of exams; there was a lot to be done to prepare the food) and telling me they were all my uo – my boyfriend. That got awkward pretty fast.

Overall, my school was fairly subdued. At the end of the week, cooked pigs were given to the proctors as well as other gifts of food and some money. One girl told me the proctors at her school were given huge bags of palagi food every day after exams, in addition to receiving a pig every day. Another girl told me that her host mom, who also happens to be the principle at her school, spent $1,000 tala on the food for the final day of exams. People really go all out. Since 4 year 7 students came in every day to serve the food, I, as usual, had very few responsibilities. I finished one book (I was already half way through it) and got 150 pages into Anna Karenina. Let me tell you, that is a really long book.

Next up are final exams, then prize-giving. I’ll be sure to let you know how they go.

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