Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anecdotes from Exam Week

With two weeks left of school, I'm desperately trying to complete the semester grades of my 700+ students. While I've certainly had better weeks involving less chaotic and redundent busy work, a couple of anecdotes from testing week have made me giggle.

"The Plight" in Action
I wrote about the conundrum of government schools in Thailand both in a detailed blog post and the article The Plight of Government Schools in Thailand for a website called AsiaPundits, but I thought I might provide some first hand examples of the backward system straight from testing week.

After a semester of receiving zero instruction or materials for teaching yet again, I am expected to test my students. Fair enough. The test doesn't serve to actually evaluate their knowledge, but more as a formality to provide the necessary evidence for the (laughable) Ministry of Education, which in turn will keep the funds coming so long as everyone looks busy.

So, I devise the easiest possible test because, as I wrote about in "The Plight...", all students must pass. Whereas last semester I was instructed to senselessly handwrite "pass" next to 1200 students' names, this semester I was given six poorly translated objectives that students must receive a grade for.

After running up and down the stairs between the grade five and six offices trying to sort out unclear and contradictory instructions, finally someone told it how it was.

Thailand is a culture that is all about saving face. This usually involves stepping on eggshells so as not to bring attention to problems or corruption. 

Oraya, the head of English for grade five, probably speaks the best English in the school. She knows of my familiarity with Thailand after a year of working here, and she is also smart enough to realize that things are done differently here than in other places. Despite our lengthy English conversation, she finally spoke words that I recognized as my language when she stated what is implicit in Thai culture:

"This is Thailand. Make it up!"

And so, I am expected to arbirarily make up six grades (in addition to the test) for every one of my 700+ students. That's over 4,200 numbers that I am pulling out my ass.

I've requested a Thai teacher or intern in my class during test week, so they can control the students while I give students a basic oral assessment individually. Here are some other "This is Thailand" examples:

- Regarding perfectly capable students with learning disabilities: "He is autistic. He doesn't need to do a test. Just give him full points."

-Thai teacher is meant to prevent copying, but instead facilitates it. 

-Thai teacher goes over test answers on the microphone (there is no concept of individual merit).

-Regarding a student that has clearly never tried to learn English:  "He can't write English. He must copy his friends."
I'm not the only one exhausted by exam week
ESL: Comedy at its Finest
The oral exam consists of three basic questions that have been drilled into their head since they started studying English; questions we rehearse nearly every week; questions we reviewed last week and questions we practiced minutes before the test began:

1. What is your name?
2. How old are you?
3. Where are you from?

-Many students cannot even answer what is their name (this was true in high school, too).

-Others attempt to sneakily cheat during the individual oral exam by writing the speech on their hands for a quick glace. This move especially provides me with a much needed mid-test laugh.

[Now that I am on the other side of the classroom, I realize the teacher actually can see everything that goes on in class. I hope that I was at least slightly sneakier than Thai students are when it comes to breaking rules].

I mean, COME ON, with a foot separating us while I'm staring at them, do they really think that they can sneak a glance at their hand? My favorites are the ones that go for the subtle look by smoothing over their hair and taking a peek as their hand passes eye level. It's a crack up!

-Some of my favorite answers to the oral exam:

Me: How old are you?
Student: I am fine, thank you. (Understandable, 'how are you' sounds similar to them as 'how old are you')

Me: (shakes head) How OLD are you?
Student: I am from Thailand. (They just memorized the answers and don't listen to the question).

Me: (shakes head) HOW OLD ARE YOU?
Student: I am 10 o'clock...uhh.. 10 o'clock years old.
Me: How old are you?
Student: I am 6 years old. 
(They are 12; I ask them in Thai if they are 6)
Student: Uhhh I am twenty...uhh two hundred years old. 
(They are still 12).
Me: How old are you?
Student: I am one-hundred forty-two centimeters talls.
Me: How old are you?
Student: I am where-are-you-from years old.
Me: Where are you from?
Student: Welcome to Thailand.
(Thanks, I've been here a year now though....)
Aside from the busy busy busy work of making up and fudging grades to aid in the continuation of a system that I deem as miserable, the children always manage to bring a smile to my face. While I certainly will not miss the Thai government school system (in fact, surviving it for a year is a feat), I truly will miss these little beings.

1 comment:

EMELEE said...

I loved this post, made me laugh out loud the kids respondes!