I have been pretty good about working through the winter. Every month I have gotten something done , big and small, fighting through the cold and the colds. I feel good about the work I have been able to do- yet as soon as spring rolls around, as soon as it starts getting warm and pleasant, I hit the one wall that makes everything slow to a crawl. Olympiad season!
I don’t mean the cool Olympics… the one with the runners and swimmers. The Olympics for many Mongolian students are the equivalent of academic achievement tests. For each subject from 9th grade up, two students are picked to represent each school, and basically sit down for standardized tests. From what I can tell they are a holdover from the Soviet era, reminiscent of Math Olympiads or Chess Olympiads in that they are large government academic competitions. Needless to say over the last couple weeks they have taken a lot of energy.
So much so that my English clubs have been cancelled, lesson planning hasn’t happened.. which to be honest hasn’t been that much of a surprise. The same pattern happened last year. What kills me is this – teachers will tell the rest of the class to work through some exercises in the book and only focus on the two kids taking the test in that subject. Why do they ignore the class? Why do they basically tutor their ‘best students’ ? Because some genius ages ago decided to link the top performing students with a salary bump for their teacher.
This system has many weak points. It causes derision amongst teachers at the larger schools, where they might have 10 students that can easily compete, while a group of 5 teachers will be at each others throats trying to get their student the ability to participate. It doesn’t incentivize teachers to teach to the entire class and entire classes get dismissed so teachers can tutor those ‘good’ kids… Not to mention the tests them selves .. I can only speak towards the English tests, which include a maddening mix of grammar that isn’t even covered in the books or questions with multiple possible answers or even none at all…
Here is an example on a recent practice test:
Which object doesn’t belong ?
- Tube top
Now in my mind… I would say car, because the others are pieces of clothing… But that would be wrong, silly. Its actually earrings… because it’s a plural noun.
Here is another one:
Choose the best answer
Tuya________ to tidy the room.
- need B. should. C. have
I can’t even.
Luckily I’m not thrown into the tutoring as much as my Teaching English as Foreign Language or TEFL Volunteers; but I do talk with my teachers about how fatuous it all is. The tests don’t usually follow the government textbooks and therefore are impossible to study for. Its common to say “You had good luck !” when congratulating someone on good marks on a test like this… because with all of the mistakes and errors, it really does take a lot of luck to do well. The negatives abound! And since the majority of these tests come from on high, mainly the Ministry of Education, its not a problem really anyone can fix.
The only positive about this is that while other teachers are busy tutoring , students are testing elsewhere which means I have lots of down time. I take time to drink lots of tea, do yoga everyday and theoretically plan for more projects in the future. Most of that planning time has been recently been taken over by Buffy the Vampire Slayer if I’m going to be completely honest.
In one way its quite fortuitous that the Olympics are happening this time of year however, because its also time for our VRFs to be filled out! (the exclamation point is sarcastic…) .
VRFs or Volunteer Reporting Forms are documents we fill out to let Peace Corps know what work we have done over the last couple months, usually each trimester. From these reports, its how we let PC know we are doing work at site and create a “story” of what PC does… in other words, what we report gets processed by someone to paint a picture for Congress why its worth it to spend a smidgen of tax payer money on Peace Corps and its mission. In so many words, I swear I’m not wasting your money!
In all honesty , it can be a pain to write – we have to detail everything from the budget, the number of participants, the number of project indicators reached , amongst a number of other things. There are review sections where we discuss how integrated we feel in the community , how we feel about our language skills and whether there is anything admin would like to know , all that fun stuff. Yet its also nice to take a look at what I have done over the past couple of months, everything from “Monglish” Nights to a local Culture Fair Project. Its part of the process, and keeps us all accountable. Fair enough to say though, if you wanted to join PC to escape paperwork, you’re sorely mistaken.
In other news we found out our potential Close of Service (COS) dates. These are dates where we can leave Mongolia for good. . The dates are staggered from July 23rd to August 3rd. While this news stirred up many incongruous feelings (am I happy ? Am I sad? I can leave that for another post… or two) it did set my American mind thinking about possibilities for what I would like to do. Since I don’t have grad school to return to, or weddings or a job to come back to right away, I’m most likely going to sign up for the last date, take my time to travel back. Mainly for the opportunity to see some people scramble for the first dates. People in my cohort have been pretty explicit about their need to leave earlier then so and so.
I might just bring popcorn.
As for where I will go, what I will do. Honestly the possibilities are endless. But I will try to set my sites to getting some Belgium waffles. With some beer on the side 🙂 . Just a thought.
Hope this finds you well! -V.