Tuesday, October 5, 2010
That time of year again
This morning I escorted my class six students to their exams, taken in the main village on the island. They couldn't have come too soon. For the past year these kids (class six) have been preparing for these exams, almost exclusively, and not just during the regular school day. They have been coming backk to school every evening, all year for night school to study for the exams. During school holidays they have been coming to school, they came every morning before school started because "morning class" was being held. The past month has been especially busy for them, taking only a short break in the afternoon to shower and eat. By the way, these kids are ten and eleven years old. The last few weeks I was sure they were going to lose their minds. (last year the exams got pushed back a week at the last minute because of a tsunami, the kids went a little crazy) But we made it to the exams, they are finished today (which also means, for all educational purposes, school is finished today) and we will celebrate their return this afternoon with a village feast.
Why, you might ask, is so much importance placed on these tests? Well, I generally don't advocate "teaching to a test," however these tests carry a lot of weight. They determine not only where, but if a student will attend secondary school next year. In many ways, how well the kids do on this test determines their future. If they do well enough, they have the opportunity to go to school on the main island on a scholarship (and from there potentially university overseas), if they do poorly enough they do not qualify for any secondary school, and that most likely ends their formal education. At eleven years old. (They are reportedly getting rid of the class six exam, or at least making it less high-stakes, but that change-over was supposed to take place my first year here, then this year...no word yet. Tonga time.) So we have been working hard to prepare the kids for these exams, splitting the night classes between the two teachers and I and working over the school holidays. But the kids have been there for every extra session (they are not seen as optional). As I walked them to the test site today their nervous energy was palpable, manifesting itself in outbursts of crazy singing and laughing among the girls and playful aggression among the boys. The kids dressed up in their best, cleanest school uniforms, and brought new pens and whole, unbroken rulers. They looked sharp. I left them with the old, Bob the Builder "Can we do it?" To which they pumped their fists in the air and yelled, "Yes we can!" And they were off. As I walked away, I couldn't help but look back and feel so proud of them for all their hard work; I knew they were as prepared as they would ever be.
Walking back into the village I passed one of the high school girls walking into town and asked her why she wasn't in school. She told me she was making food for the feast later, which evidently takes priority over school.
A few weeks ago the kids all showed up to school on a Thursday not in their school uniforms. I asked my first class of the day, class 3 why, but they couldn't explain it very well, they just kept telling me because there was an earthquake in New Zealand. Finally I met with class six, and they explained that they were doing a fundraiser to help New Zealand after the big earthquake there last month. The kids are required to wear their school uniform to school every day, except for Wednesday when their mothers wash their uniforms. If they don't wear their uniforms on a day they're supposed to, they have to pay the principal (and they usually get a bit of a lashing as well). Well, for the fundraiser they were told to wear whatever clothes they wanted and to pay the fine, which then got donated to New Zealand (no lashings this day). I thought that was not only a pretty cool idea, but also pretty proactive and generous by the village and students, considering not many families are in a position to give away money. The school ended up raising $46 pa'anga for the cause, which I thought that was really special.
Well, about half of the garden sprouted, I think some of the seeds I was using were old, but what did come up is growing really well. So what came up? Well, that's the strange part. I have three or four huge, beautiful red radishes from the mystery seeds, which I have no idea what to do with. I also have a couple really great sprouts of leafy lettuce. More inexplicably, I have two papaya trees growing that I didn't plant, and three watermelon vines (also which I did not plant) coming up where I planted tomatoes. But, I'm in no position to complain (just be baffled), at this point I'll be happy with whatever grows. Oh, and I also have two vegetables growing that I have no idea what they are because I think the actual vegetable must be growing underground. But the tops of them are beautiful, thick green leaves. So more surprises to come!