It’s final exam time at KEMU. The exam system here is a little different than what I have known; and, you may have read my descriptions of the exam writing process if you are a regular blog follower (Hey, I hope you are—even though I don’t know who you are).
There are three groups of students on campus now: the full-time undergrads and grads who have been here all trimester; the “school-based” students who come in August or early September for the start up of a class and now return for their final exams (after which they will immediately start a new course for a few days); and the distance learners (ODL is the short hand term) who met on campus once, received a packet of study materials, turned in assignments by email, and are now back for an exam.
There are a lot of new faces, many of them for older students, and a lot of surprised looks when they see me walking across campus or in the cafeteria (a mzungu!). It is still interesting to be the only white person on campus (or in shopping areas or in church). The school-based students come from all over Kenya and bordering countries. For some, this is an extremely cold climate and they are bundled up (I’m in shirtsleeves and very comfortable). Most of the older students on campus are dressed up—I think it’s a good reunion and social event for many. There are fancy hair-dos and wigs, and some obvious new shoes and dresses.
This whole cycle of start up, leave or stay, return, and exam, is repeated each trimester. Trimesters—I used to think of a trimester as half over before I was really getting wound up. And it was always interesting to see which compulsive students wanted to start final projects on the first day so they would have time to finish—something I saw less often when I taught in the lengthier semester system. Classes pretty much ended last week. When I looked at the official university calendar and noted the date that “lectures end,” I assumed that was the last day of class. No, classes end when you have finished delivering the material, but not after the “lectures-end” date. Since the time that classes ended, the activity level on campus has changed. And now that the older students are here, both the activity level and the character of the campus has changed.
It’s study time. I entered a classroom this morning expecting to meet some students (the meeting had changed location) and there were no desks in the room. Desks are scattered all over campus and single persons, clusters of two or three, groups of five-ten, can be seen all over. Shade trees have grown “under-canopy” study groups. Empty classrooms have been found by silence seekers. The library is full. Groups of distance learners have time blocks scheduled when they can meet their instructor of record for “tutorials.” They are probably meeting many of the other students for the first time—and they will meet me for the first time (I expect some surprised looks from the students I have been sending emails back and forth to for the last four months).
Students whom I have speculated were not particularly serious about studies, now look like monkish scholars—arms full of notes or something (there were no text books for my courses, but they have found something to carry), heads down, simultaneously reading and walking. I think there is a little less laughter on campus, the cafeteria empties faster, there seems to be less basketball going on at the concrete court just outside our apartment; however, the football (aka soccer) game in the yard next door hasn’t slowed down or lost intensity.
I get the feeling that students will enter my exams having memorized every note from their own pages and from all the colleagues who seem in a very collaborative mood now. We’ll see.
The actual exam has been prepared by other faculty on this and other campuses, screened and revised by a departmental group, screened and edited again by a multi-campus group, typed and printed in another office, and remains hidden from my eyes until the students enter the room. They can come in the room only if they have an examination card which has been issued by the examination officer who has reviewed their papers to assure that each instructor has marked and signed that the student is approved to take the examination. (All faculty on campus have had lines of students outside their doors who need signatures—it’s crowded and hectic).
Exams will be picked up by the faculty member invigilating the exam [yes, I had to look up invigilate—it means “proctor”) 30 minutes before exam time. The sealed envelope in which the exam and the books in which the answers will be written will be opened in the exam room. At the end of the exam, with signatures and IDs for entrance and egress (I haven’t been able to use that word for a while!), the invigilator will go off to mark. Everything is turned in with several signatures and then passed on to examination committees where exams and instructor grade sheets are moderated.
I have one problem—I’ll give one exam at Friday, December 14, from 11:20-2:20, and at 2:25 will jump in the van to take us back to Nairobi for a night’s stay before flying back to Oregon the next day. Ideally, I’ll have marked all the exams and put them in a sealed envelope to return to campus. Most likely, I’ll carry them on the plane and will end up paying a huge amount to mail them back to campus.
One final non-exam comment: A lot of people looked at my blog post about Kenyan classrooms—that is interesting to me. I ran in to a teacher yesterday whom I had met in late August when he was on campus for the start of a school-based course. We talked again. He teaches in a school with fifth through eighth grade students. He has 50 pupils in each class (the state standard is no more than 45). Some classes have no text books (the state standard is one book for each two students). He has some classes with as many as five books (figure one book for ten students). I get the feeling that he loves his job. I don’t know about the physical facilities where he teaches, but I wonder how many of the teacher training students I used to see in the states would accept those conditions?
I’ve shared some observations by email with the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. He has said he wanted to talk. I hope we have time to chat before I leave. This has been an interesting experience for me. I’ve learned a lot. As the days wind down for our stay here in Kenya, I’m sure there will be some other “moments” which pop up which I want to share. For example, I gave my class a short lecture from the DSM-IV about sexual and gender disorders then followed that in the next class meeting with an informational presentation about issues across cultures related to GLBT (Q&Q) persons.
I asked the students to describe how those conditions are viewed from the perspective of their culture, their community, their church, and the law. A pretty good discussion (and I’m still here!). And, there was excitement on the campus last night! The finals of the annual “Mr. & Miss KEMU” contest were held at the big open-air pavilion at the center of campus. Three men and three women from each of the five KEMU campuses were here after going through preliminary contests on their own campus. They have been on campus for the last three days in rehearsals, so last night fifteen men and fifteen women competed in several events—all on an elevated runway constructed on the grass in front of the pavilion. Three huge open-sided tents had been erected on each side of the runway for students and fans, plus the covered pavilion was full of chairs (and people) along with celebrity judges and campus dignitaries. The event started at 8:00; we arrived at 10:00; the runway events were just starting.
Most interesting was the portion where contestants paraded in the attire of the indigenous group they identify with—some fabulous colors, dress (it’s not a costume if it’s what you regularly wear), cheers, snappy MC commentary, loud music, and excitement. [I haven’t found out yet this morning who won—we left about 2:00 AM and the winner had not been announced. Oh, and the event featured a couple of power outages and about 20 minutes of torrential downpour.] We cheered for a Meru campus contestant who is from South Sudan—she is over 6’ tall, slender as a reed, with magnificent runway presence and “the model walk” demonstrating confidence, poise, and style. Joan and I insist she could step on a runway with professional models and hold her own—especially when she accentuates her height with some absolutely outrageous high heels that nearly defy explanation or physics.
And excitement this morning! I have been watching a group of interesting birds fly over in the morning and evening. If you are a birder, they are “silvery cheeked hornbills.” This morning, one was perched in the tree outside our window and I got a close up view (sorry, no camera in hand). Google the bird name and you’ll see why they are so fascinating—a huge white bill on top of its head that looks like dorsal fin when it flies and really stands out when they are up close.
Other animals have been busy also. I’m told that yesterday the baboons came on to the parking lot close to my office and took a side mirror from a fairly new car. After they carried it up a tree across the fence in the elephant area, they came back and took the other one in the afternoon. Baboons must be vain.
This morning, my spouse, Joan, is in a truck with a university driver and will be off to purchase 20+ bunk bed mattresses, sheets, blankets, pillows, mop buckets, mops, and other items she will deliver to the Methodist Children’s Home where she has been volunteering while we have been here. She already purchased 17 suitcases because the kids must leave the compound and stay with someone somewhere during the times between school sessions. They didn’t want to make that move carrying their stuff in a plastic garbage bag. Much of the money has come from friends back home who have made nice donations.
It’s really getting close to departure time. I’ll continue this blog, at least until we return to Oregon. I think then is when I’ll want to put together a set of observations and reactions from the last four months. It has been a most interesting time.
Good wishes. Brooke
Brooke Collison is professor emeritus of counselor education and a former president of the American Counseling Association. He will be a visiting professor at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya during the September trimester. Joan Collison will be a volunteer with children in a social service agency during their four-month stay in Kenya.