Much of my work in my first three months as a Program Coordinator with the Arajuno Road Project (ARP) in Puyo, Ecuador, has been as an English language teacher in two rural schools. An inevitable part of traditional teaching methods is evaluation, and I occasionally have to test my students on the knowledge they’ve gained thus far. I gave exams to 1st through 7th grades this week, and I can’t say that I liked it any more than my students.
My exams for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades are all oral, so I brought students into the classroom individually and asked them questions. Sometimes they needed to respond in English, or touch the corresponding body part when I said “nose” or “eyes.” It seemed simpler for the higher grades, who all took written exams. In one of my 6th grade classes, I thought things had gone well. I had collected their notebooks in front of the classroom before the exam started and explained that there should be no talking while any students still had test papers on their desks. There were a few questions for me during the exam, but it seemed like things were running smoothly. The students handed in their quizzes at the end of class and I dismissed them. But before they left, all but one of them returned to their desks where they retrieved hidden notes and papers that they had used to cheat during the test! I had to retest them all, even my one student who didn’t cheat (and, it should be noted, finished before everyone else, passing with flying colors!), Julia.
I don’t think that I cheated on anything in elementary school, and I don’t even remember having that impulse. It could be based in personality, but I wonder if it’s a reflection of a cultural difference. Maybe this is an accepted trend that they see in role models, or maybe it’s something bigger. If you grow up in a place where it’s generally believed that those in authority could be corrupt, then what’s the incentive to respect them or play by their rules? Doesn’t it make more sense to get away with what you can, since they would likely do the same if the tables were turned? If everyone is doing it, then it puts you at a disadvantage if you don’t.
When I retested my 6th grade, I found that their exam scores were pretty low. Except for Julia, that is, who did even better the second time around. After class, I asked her how she improved and the answer was simple: “I studied.”