Thursday, July 29, 2010
After a finishing my black tea, bowl of rice milk, and two slices of butter bread, I went outside to brush my teeth. Behind our small house, I found an older girl, perhaps about 12, hiding. Often, when the kids come a few minutes late, they hide behind the house and wait for a good moment to run the 50-yard distance into the school compound, because the teachers stand outside brandishing their long canes, eager to apprehend and punish all the late-comers. Unfortunately, this often results in a build-up of a half-dozen or so kids behind our house, who stand there until about a half an hour into school, when they can usually run inside undetected. The best way we’ve determined to combat this problem is to pick a large book from inside, bring it out back, and then walk into school with the kids, under their teachers’ noses, pretending to read and discuss the book. Anyways, I ran inside, found Charlotte’s Web, and explained the plan to the girl, who introduced herself as Erica, from Class Six. As the commissioner of quite a few personalized friendship bracelets from “Busy Bee Bracelets, Inc.”, I happen to know that Erica is both one of the most talented weavers and the VP of manufacturing. I complimented her on her work and she struggled to repress a smile as we sauntered past the teachers and into school.
As I was returning to the house, I saw that the teachers had put down their weapons and gathered in a circle around a small boy, who I recognized was Charles, from Class Three, who Annabel tutors (and regards quite highly). Everyone was praying in soft voices with closed eyes, and finally Mr. Kabutey began a louder prayer for the exorcism of the evil spirits from the boy. One of the teachers had had a dream that he was possessed, so they were performing an elaborate prayer ritual to cure him. I saw Charles look up as I passed, and I waved, despite myself. He mouthed, “Good morning, Madame,” flashed me a huge grin, and looked down again before anyone noticed his movement.
We tried to begin tutoring as normal, but when I went to grab Philip from Class Four, he beat his hand against his desk and got up so angrily that I was a bit startled. I asked him if he wanted to remain in class to review for exams next week, instead of reading with me, and he nodded grimly, so I left. Mr. Kabutey soon instructed us that we were not tutoring today, but rather typing up the exams, because there were so many to do. We knew that Reuben, the computer teacher, and Stella, the KG teacher, were proficient typists, and I imagine some of the other teachers were too, but they neglected to admit as much and eagerly loaded each of us with eight exams to type up, from Class One all the way to JHS 2 (8th grade). Will began with Math, the typing of which was easily the most difficult, because it involved graphs, formulas, and figures that we did not really know how to draw on a Word document. Kelly typed up General Science, each of which were 80 multiple choice questions and a host of free responses. I began typing up ICT, or Computer exams, and had to restrain myself from getting frustrated that Reuben, the computer teacher, handed me his tests, told me he was busy, and proceeded to lounge around the room, looking over our shoulders and examining the music Will and I were playing on my laptop to amuse ourselves. Annabel typed up English exams. Hers were exceedingly frustrating, because although most of our exams had various grammatical errors in many of the questions, we were able to casually and inoffensively correct them as we typed them up. Hers, however, were riddled with improper grammar, and many of the multiple choice questions had no correct answer or made no logical sense. Ever since Madame Theresa, the English teacher, left, there hasn’t really been a proper English teacher for the students, so Madame Janet, the Class Two teacher (who is lovely and very sweet, but not quite as strong an English speaker), had to write the English exams for Classes One-Six. Gabi, the JHS English teacher (and some relation to, perhaps brother of, Theresa), and the only person at Manye with a University degree, neglected to write exams for his classes and instead informed Will and Connie that they could write them and he would “approve” them.
Anyways, despite our frustration, Will struggled through the math exams, and Kelly and I remarked upon how Classes One-Four cannot really read (to varying degrees), and as a result we had no idea how they would possibly face the abstract exams we were typing up. (I think Kelly’s expression, in reference to the Class One Science exam was, “When someone gives this to little Kelvin, I’m afraid his head might explode.”) Furthermore, the questions (particularly on the ICT exams that I was typing) seemed horribly irrelevant to the kids, as well as somewhat useless knowledge. I couldn’t imagine asking one of my Class Two boys to tell me “What number row is the Qwerty Row on the keyboard,” “what does ‘DOS’ stand for,” “what is a modem,” or whether a computer is an instrument for communication, information, technology, or electricity. The kids have never heard of the Internet or E-mail, and certainly do not have access to it, and even if they could possibly have managed to read the exam, the abstraction of the questions frustrated us considerably.
We typed in the hot computer lab for about 5 hours, from 8am-1pm, when we retired to the house for lunch. Annabel had calculated that, between 8 classes of approximately 25 students, each being tested on Ghanaian Language, Science, ICT, English, French, Math, Citizenship Education, and Creative Arts (they insisted that we write up exams), we would need to print out a total of 1600 exams. Most of the ones we had typed were about 4 pages long, but the French teacher (the only one who had typed his own)’s and the Ghanaian Language exams were about 10 pages long each. Reams of printer paper cost about 6 cedis, and we were going to need about fifteen of them to accommodate that amount of printing. That would be enough money to have kept about 5 more students in school this term. Annabel had been working on Mr. Kabutey’s accounting after typing, and had remarked at how, once kids racked up a few terms without paying at all, they were sent home, no longer able to attend the school (which is by far the cheapest, and poorest, in the area). Annabel explained that she wasn’t normally anymore “green” than the next person, but that the money saved by reducing each exam to one or two pages (by removing spaces between lines, reducing the font size of the header, slightly increasing the margins, and putting all the multiple choice answers on one line) was enough to pay for a number of students’ education. We were none too pleased to return to the computer lab, but agreed to spend a few hours reformatting all the exams that we’d typed so as to waste less paper. It may not sound like the difference between a two and a four page exam is necessarily a big deal, but when you multiply it by 25 students, by the number of classes, and by the number of subjects, it certainly adds up. Connie even took the trouble to double-side her exams, even though the manual re-feeding of the paper almost invariably caused the temperamental printer to jam, and the process of printing out her 25 JHS 2 English exams took a number of hours by itself.
When we finally completed all the exams we’d been given and school had been let out, we decided to go into Accra for the evening. After a delicious dinner at “Sunshine2Go,” an obruni-friendly diner where we’d been once before (I was charmed when the waitress remembered my order), we walked to an outdoor bar that had been recommended to us called Bywel. After paying the (fairly steep) entrance fee of 4 cedis, we relaxed and a live band played lots of mellow oldies, ranging from “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to “Hey Jude”. Soon everyone was dancing, and we met a friendly group of Austrian tourist obrunis who were leaving in the morning. We were a bit disappointed to have missed the “Singles Mingle” that was advertised prominently for the night before, but we passed a pleasant evening nonetheless, and returned home rather early and in a decidedly better mood than when we’d left.