This past week, we had our first monthly exams for the new year. Because these exams were not mid-term or end of term exams, it went really fast. For all classes (except VII), each test was only 10 questions long. For Class VII, it was 25 questions long. I will admit, though, that I was rather disappointed in the results this month. Class VI did quite well, and Class V did OK, but Class VII did horribly. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that most of them only got 56%. I know that the students can do better than this; they've proved it to me before.
It just seems to me that the minute Class VII from last year left, the pressure was placed on the new Class VII, and their scores automatically began sag under the weight of that pressure. So, now I've gone on a rampage to find out what are the underlying causes of the low scores. But, it's hard to get a straight answer out of the students because I don't think they fully understand what I'm trying to talk to them about. They're so used to memorizing and spitting out information. They say exactly what they think their teachers want to hear. But, here I am, messing everything up, and trying to get them to express themselves and how they actually feel. It's not easy when you're not used to it and when you're not quite sure of the language. For example, the students don't really understand the word "nervous". So, if I try and ask them if they feel nervous when they're taking a test, they don't quite get what I mean. I've tried to explain it many times and in many ways, but it's difficult to describe feelings in concrete ways.
One thing that I did get out of a lot of students is that they are afraid that their teachers and/or parents will beat them for low scores. I'm not sure I've talked very much on this matter in my blog, but maybe now is the time to explain the situation in more detail. Please, I hope that you will read this with an open mind. I hope that those reading this will understand that every culture is different and every culture has it's good and it's bad points. Up until this point, I've refrained from speaking of negative aspects of Tanzanian culture. But, this is one such thing.
Beating is currently a common form of punishment here in Tanzania, as well as many African countries. If students are misbehaving at home or at school, they are beaten. If they are disrespecting their elders, they are beaten. If their grades are too low, they are beaten. (I hope that you will note, that even not to long ago beating was considered acceptable in western cultures, and even America. The campaign for not using corporal punishment is really a rather recent one.)
When I first arrived, I didn't see any kid get beat for about a week. When I saw it for the first time, I recoiled in horror. My immediate thought: "a teacher could be arrested for this in the US!!!" Through talking to others, I've learned that that is the most common form of punishment and it has been happening for generations. Parents were beaten by their parents who were beaten by their parents, who were beaten by their parents. It doesn't necessarily make it right, but it explains why it happens. Because o one does or tries anything else. They just do what they've seen modeled for them.
As for myself growing up, corporal punishment was never common in my family, but I definitely heard about it from others at school. Fellow students and friends would do something wrong and then have to go get "daddy's belt", but this was usually reserved for severe misdemeanors. Maybe some will think I'm wrong for saying this, but I can see where corporal punishment has it's place. But, for me, getting a low score is not such an offense. I remember one time when we had monthly test scores last year. One of the teachers wrote on the board scores and how many "sticks" a student would receive for each of those scores. The list went up to 6 or 7. Unfortunately, last year, I happened to be in the room when that teacher came in to punish those students. I could see the fury and lack of compassion in her eyes, even when the kids started to cry. It seriously made me want to cry, but who was I to say anything or judge what was culturally acceptable? So, I just left the room instead.
However, it's not that way for all teachers. For some teachers, the use of the stick is more symbolic, and it's rather obvious that the child is not really suffering from severe pain/injury. The act is more of a simple tap on the hand two or three times. For some teachers, they use the symbolic method for minor offenses, but they will use the stick more severely for major offenses. I'll admit that when I first got here, I used the stick a few times because I wasn't sure what else to do. Before I came, I hadn't given much thought to the fact that how people punish here might be different from how I see punishments. I found that some of the punishments I tried at first confused the kids a lot (ie. sending them out of the class for a "time out"). (Also, referring to a more specific case: I see fighting as a major offense which deserves a more severe punishment such as getting a "stick") But, as time has gone on and I've spoken to other teachers as well as the past missionary, and really just used trial and error to figure out what works best. I tried having them write lines, but that was hard to keep track of and rather wastes their resources (pens and exercise books). I've tried sending them to the Head Teacher, but I don't want to do that all the time (I'd rather that be a special punishment for the bad offenses, or repeat offenses). What I've found works best for maintaining order in the class is for me to start counting to 5. Once I hit five, the kids have to kneel for the rest of the period. If they continue to talk and make noise, I start counting again. If I make it to 5 a second time, it means that the Head Teacher is going to be called into the class to talk to them/punish them. Most of the time, all it takes for them to get quiet is for me to say "One!"
Honestly, I've seen kids get beaten by a stick so much now that for the most part I've accepted it as a part of daily life here. It's something that's happened for generations and it's going to continue to happen; I can't change the mind-set of an entire people. But, the time the punishment really bothers me is when it's over scores. Beating a child with a stick is not going to beat knowledge into their brains. It's not going to make them more intelligent. It's not going to help solve the situation. A real solution would be to get that child extra assistance in or out of class, or to assign extra practice work at home. What sucks most about this, though, is when a student has improved (maybe last test they got 30% and this time they got 50%), but they still get beaten because their score is still so low. Honestly, I think this messes with their minds and makes them even more nervous to take tests.
I'm trying my best to eliminate the fear factor for my English students. I'm constantly reassuring them that they won't be beaten by me if they get a low score. But, I make sure that they also know that they will be rewarded if they get a high score (an 80% or higher). I'm trying to do my best to help students in class and I've been assigning extra work for homework 4 days a week. Only time will tell if these things are actually helping my students. I hope that as the national exams get closer, the scores on my tests will get higher. I would like to leave in June with a feeling of confidence in their English abilities!!
Well, that's all for now! I was in Moshi this past weekend for the Kilimanjaro Half Marathon, but I plan to write a separate blog about that later this week. I left my camera in the hotel room on race day, but someone else took pictures for me and I'm waiting for her to email them to me.
I hope that you also had a great weekend and that your week has started well!!
May the Lord Bless You and Keep You,