It is now the week of final exams in the college for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students, who have all been working hard all year to get to this point. It is a period of intense study and revision, and the students often sit around in groups under trees or sitting on stones trying to make sense of their courses.
This week and next are also the times for final exams in the high schools up and down the country. Children join school here at 7 years old (Grade 1) although they can join later or even much later. Education is not compulsory but it is free. There are 8 years of schooling in the elementary schools, and many children currently drop out of school over this period. Also there are end of Grade exams, which pupils are supposed to pass before progressing to the next Grade but automatic passing of all pupils is widespread in the schools.
At Grades 9 and 10, the children can go to high school, although there are far fewer high schools than elementary schools at the moment and many students drop out at that stage too, simply because there is not a high school nearby to go to.
At the end of Grade 10 the students sit a major exam. If they pass, they can go onto Preparatory School for two years, which sees them study for the university entrance exam at the end of Grade 12. However if the students fail the Grade 10 exam, they have a few options; drop out of education, go to technical college to learn a trade or go to college to study to be a teacher. So all the students at this college who will go on to be teachers at elementary schools have in fact failed the Grade 10 exam. This has a big impact on their learning and their teaching in the college.
Unfortunately, they are seen by many as ‘failures’ and they struggle greatly with the course material, particularly the language aspect. The students’ English is fairly poor but they study pretty advanced subjects like philosophy, psychology and special needs education in very complicated English. All courses have been copied and pasted from other sources like Encarta or textbooks, which is way beyond the students’ level of English comprehension, and simply read out to them. I can’t imagine trying to study to be a teacher in a language I have no understanding of, like Russian or Greek, but this is what it is like. Often the students come to us after a lesson to ask what it was all about, and we do feel sorry for them, as none of these problems necessarily mean they will be a good or bad teacher. We see many great qualities in the students – enthusiasm, kindness and commitment – and we hope they can get a chance to use these in their future profession.