Friday, December 10, 2010


Dec 7

Picture this: You’re a nervous grade 6 kid, about to write the Class Six, two hour, English board exam (the same exam is written by Class Sixes all across the country). You’ve studied hard, and you are really hoping to do well. These are the instructions on the front of the exam booklet:


[I’ll skip direction 1 and 2]…

3. In this paper there are three sections: A, B and C. All questions in Section A and B are compulsory.

4. Section C has three genres: Short Stories, Essay and Poetry. Each genre has two sets of questions, Set I and Set II. Set l comprises of Question nos. 1a and 1b and Set ll corresponds to Question no. 2 across all genres. You must attempt one set of questions from each genre.

5. In Section C, you must attempt three sets of questions in all. Your choice must include one Set ll question (Question no. 2) from any genre.

6. In Section C, do not attempt questions from two different sets. Your choice is strictly between the two sets of questions provided for each genre.

[The instructions continue to 10]

To me this sounds like a complicated math problem and an instructional nightmare. If I had been faced with those instructions I think I might have just cried. And I’m good at math, and English is my first language!

Surprisingly, most of the students did follow the instructions correctly. About 15% of the kids missed sections or did extra sections which, therefore, do not get marked. In most of those cases, that meant they got a failing grade.

The questions themselves were not too difficult (for me!), but they were too difficult for many of the students. They particularly bombed on the language section, which is mostly grammar. It also seemed that they did not understand the essay, which was about ants, or the poetry selection, about a hippopotamus opening gifts.

The students had to write a letter as part of the exam, and many chose to write a letter to their mothers about their preparations, hopes and fears concerning their exams. Most of the letters talked about their desire to get a position (for first, second or third they receive a prize) and how ashamed they will be if they don’t pass. Virtually all of them asked their mother to pray for their success.

This is one of the best responses to an essay question about the upcoming holiday. I love what it teaches us about Bhutan -the blend of the old and the new. Looking after the cows and sending messages on the mobile phone. Playing khuru (traditional dart game) and watching television. Beloved grandma.

“My topic is about my holidays after my school ends.
After the end of my school I decided to go to the village with my cousin brother. His name is Yeshi Gyeltshen and he said to me that he will come on 19th December. I will go to the village and look after the cows same like what I did last winter break. I will give the foods to the cattle and play some khuru. There is one very special day that is happy new year. On that day I will write some message in mobile and send to my few friends. I will stay about 25 days and come back home. My grandma is very interested to listen my songs and story and I will sing a song for my beloved grandma.

I and my cousin brother will go to the forest to cut down the trees because our village is at the top of the mountain. It is called Chali Gompa. In the forest I will play the monkey bars (Tarzan). And at night I will come back and I will go to my friend’s house to watch television.

After 25 days I will come back to Mongar and I will bring many fruits to my brother. I am sure my grandma will give me many fruits to take to Mongar because my grandma loves me very much.

So lastly I think my winter break holiday would be more interesting vacation.
Cheki Dorji”

For more on exam issues, check Nick’s most recent blog posting. Lots of interesting observations.

1 comment:

  1. Fortunately, the whole Set I, Set II debacle continues more or less the same into higher secondary, so at least by the time they reach Class 9 it's routine for them. First time that I saw it, however... *phew*