It’s been a bit quiet here the last few weeks. Well, no: massive thunderstorms have bequeathed what at times seems like an endless curtain of rain onto the land, cutting electricity regularly but giving birth to torrents of life. Yes, fauna as well as flora. [As I type this, a white cockroach (think those flat, white ones, with long antennae) that I had previously smashed and presumed dead reappeared on my ankle. I think it was out for blood.] Truly, though, the change is most evident in the landscape. What was a brown, skeletal countryside has literally transformed in two weeks time. The rolling hills are now carpeted in green brush, ubiquitous jacarandas bloom excitedly, and the dust-brown earth now boasts a rich, mahogany hue. It’s magnificent.
So, things are in full swing here, but I’ve been quiet. Mostly, I think it’s because I’ve been struggling with measuring my progress. Volunteers are still supposedly in their observation phase, adapting to their communities and schools, identifying resources and needs, and integrating with their host families. We’re still preparing to work… and that has left me impatient, frustrated, and a bit adrift. It doesn’t help that many of my fellow PCVs that have previous education experience dove right into teaching or that the teachers in my schools are so demoralized that simply getting them to stay at school for the entire day entails locking the gate…
Today, however, was incredible.
Brief preface: we’re into final exams. These finals are written, scheduled, and implemented on a regional basis; the teachers only administer and grade them. Only the primary level schools (up to grade 7) have never done been part of the process before (allegedly, this is somewhat disputed; what I do know is that MY schools have never been part of this process before). Previously, they took teacher-written quarter finals; there was no region-wide final exam. So, right, the last week was a circus. The deputy principal and myself designed and implemented a schedule for all the teachers, workshopped them on the rules of administering a test (no, you can’t leave the students alone during a test), and then reconciled our system with what the region was asking (for example, creating logs indicating how many tests were passed out, turned in, and then marked). Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on excel. That all sounds exciting; it wasn’t. It was a headache, begging and bribing 30 adults to take on extra responsibility in service of their students.
What I didn’t do was question the accuracy of the exams that were sent to the schools – until, that is, I got a text from another PCV alerting me to the fact that two questions on a grade 6 math exam had incorrect answers given on the corresponding answer sheet that is distributed to teachers. So, of course, being the son of the best RE attorney in AZ and a superbly-trained production coordinator, I brought a copy home and took it with a friend – and then compared our answers to the Answer Memo distributed by the region. Guess what –
total of 10 incorrect answers given, out of 45, plus arguably two more that were poorly-worded.
Now, it’s well documented that people in positions of power prefer not to have it questioned – especially when the person undermining them is a stranger from a foreign land. Nevertheless, I convinced my principal that we needed to alert the circuit manager to this issue and so this morning the deputy principal and myself went in for a rather delicate meeting. And it could not have gone better! We successfully discussed the problems, their relevancy to the learners performance, and developed a game plan for addressing them. While I have no way of confirming this has happened, allegedly the errors will be passed up the chain of command to the regional manager and, in the meantime, circuit is faxing corrected answer memos to all their schools. And those faxes will also suggest to all teachers that they check the accuracy of both tests and answer memos before administering and grading exams. I’m elated: the odds against these kids are already so high, it would have been tragic to allow those mistakes to further limit their chances for success.
And, to top it all off, I had nearly 30 twelve-year-olds join me on my afternoon run today. I call it the magnet effect: first one approached me, then three, then five more came up, until I’m surrounded by a cadre of young, shoeless boys, singing “shosholoza” endlessly as we jog down dirt roads. Grandpas grinned at us, young girls stood mouths agape, and families cheered us on as we made a circuit of half the village.
Today, this favorite quotation of mine seems more than fitting:
“Or is there somewhere, in the stuff that holds humanity together, some force, some conservation of spiritual energy, that saves the core of every noble hope, and gathers all men’s visions some day, some way, into the reality of progress? I do not know. But I have seen the world move, under some, maybe mystic, influence, far enough to have the right to ask that question.”
A newspaper editor from Emporia, Kansas, wrote that more than sixty years ago. Today, I want to tell him, “yes, there is.”