Thursday, November 22, 2012


Pockets empty, pens ready, heads bent, its exam time!
The last two days I've been invigilating in the afternoons at the secondary school.  When I was first asked I hadn't a clue what they were asking. You want me to 'invigorate' the S2's?  Turns out invigilate is a term meaning to supervise. 

The S2 class contains some of my all time favourite New Hope kids.  Ones who have been around for a while and have seen us come and go and come again.  There's Annet, a David family girl, who is small in stature but mighty in power.  She kneads bread like no one else and sings worship songs at the top of her lungs.  Then there's Claire whose smile lights up a room and makes all her friends laugh even on exam day.  John, one of our sponsor child's brothers, is also in this class.  Tall and quiet, he shyly raises his hand to borrow a pen and whispers a quiet thank you.

The concrete floor in the classroom is cracked and the November sun beats down hard on the iron sheet ceiling.  Beads of sweat trickle down heads bent over their math exam.  Long legs push up hard against desks far too small for them.  As I circulate around the room I watch instruments being passed by some secret code known only by the students themselves.  Boy in desk one, row three puts his hand back and a compass mysteriously travels from the back of the room up to him.  He uses it and then it travels soundlessly back.  My futile attempts to help in these transfers only seem to disrupt the system and so I retreat to the back of the room to wait for the two and a half hours to tick by.

Today was English. By the time we had corrected all the mistakes on the paper we started about 20 minutes late. As they wrote, the sharp ones kept finding other small mistakes; missing apostrophe here, missing letter there. I certainly know who will be good editors one day.

Exams have dominated all conversations for the last month.  The primary school leaving exam in P7 determines whether a child will continue to secondary school.  Likewise the Senior 4 results (Gr. 10 approx.) determine whether students can continue and finish secondary school and then head to university.  The pressure is intense and although the ministry seeks to tell children that their identity is not defined by their results it's evident that many children are under intense pressure to 'succeed.'

Last week as the P1 (Gr. 1) teacher listed off the exams her students write I couldn't believe my ears.  Luganda phonograms, Luganda reading, English phonograms, math, Bible, P.E., arts and crafts . . .
"Arts and crafts," I ask.  "How do you have an exam in that?!" 
"Oh I test their colouring.  They are given thirty minutes to colour a page accurately."
 No wonder the heads are bent and the pens fly across the page with determination.  They've had years and years of practise.

1 comment:

  1. This took me back to secondary school and one of the invigilators (we used that word too) who would walk up and down with a squeeky boot and distract us all. Love the first photo. Cx