Exam Fever and other maladies

The exams have started here. We, the staff, can relax a bit. For me it means the end of classroom teaching in Kenya for good. And I mean “for good”, I can’t claim to have enjoyed it. But the exam season itself has brought us some entertainment of its own.

The universtiy have sent an invigilator to watch over us and the exam process. He arrived the evening before the first exam and I accompanied him in his car on a short trip to Tala to decide that the hotels there did not meet his standards. I concur, I wouldn’t want to stay there. He went back to Nairobi in the dark!

Next morning was the Entrepreneurship exam. The same students had two exams on their first day: Entrepreneurship in the morning and Javascript in the afternoon. The invigilator made us sign as we took posession of the first papers — a good new piece of procedure: the main purpose for his being here is to help avoid leaks and other problems from which the University has suffered in the recent past. From our perspective, however, its good to have him here to see what a mess the process is on account of the rubbish they send to us.

The Entrepreneurship exam, for example, had questions on Entrepreneurship on the first page, as you might expect, and questions on Advanced PC Maintenance on page two which might come as a bit of a supprise (although not if you’ve seen the last batch of exams we got!). Given that the Advanced PC exam is yet to come, the students can’t be given those papers because it would consititute a leak. The solution is simple, since the next page contained the rest of the Entrepreneurship exam questions: photocopy the fronts of the first pages on to fresh sheets. This simple solution was complicated in what seems to me a typically Tala way: we had no electricity.

The external and internal invigilators dismissed the candidates from the exam room and went off in the external invigilator’s car looking for a town in which both electricity and a photocopy service could be found at the same time. They didn’t have much luck. They got as far as Kangundo and turned back, it looked as if the whole of Machakso district was blacked out. They turned back towards Tala looking for a plce with a photocopier and a generator. They were luck,y finally, at the bank.

You have to remember that this is the (only) day when these students will have two exams on the same day. The longer it takes to sort out the first exam, the less time will be available to deal with the second. And its putting the students under unnecessary stress. Kenya Commercial Bank allowed our brave invigilators to photocopy their fifteen A4 exam papers … at a cost of 200 KSH per page! Yup, thats 3000 shillings! The going rate for photocopying in Tala is 3 bob per page and in Nairobi it’s 1.50! 3000 shillings is about $40. Things were desperate and the bank knew it. Presumably the also didn’t want to give the impression that they were offering photocopying services.

The afternoon exam went without hiccough (although I have more to rant on the content and style of questions). But this morning there came antoher: an exam wtih only the first page copied, no signs of questions 4 and 5. They called and emailed to the university to have the missing questions sent and photocopied….

The best thing about all this is how happy my colleagues are. They have struggled long against an incompetent exam office and run up considerable bills on their mobile phones sorting out just this sort of cockup. Now, at last, there is someone from the University to see the situation on the ground and also to make important decisions! They seem very relaxed; almost glad to have had such cockups in the first two days, so as to make the point very emphatically that something needs to be done at the exam office.

But now, I think, our students have suffered enough. The message has been made loud and clear. Lets hope the rest of the exams can go without incident.

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