Thank God it's Friday

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Monday. Exams all week. Again. Colombian education law is obsessed with assessment. My Year 11 students smugly inform me that they will miss today's history mock exam. I don't believe their excuses and refer to my staff bulletin. It reads "Year 11 medical check-ups all day". A Colombian colleague explains that this is standard practice because of national service, although most of them won't go into the army. They will buy their way out, or be made exempt if they are an only child. Andres, a Year 11 student, puts it another way: "Either you kill your brother or you get your dad to donate $200 (pound;128)."


We catch the first cheat of the week: a student from my history class who's hidden a list of the causes of the First World War in her Spanish-English dictionary. There is a saying here: "A boy who never graduates from school is one who has never cheated." Texting answers on mobile phones is popular with the boys; girls write answers on the hems of their skirts. The staff discuss whether students should be made to wear tracksuits all week as a counter-cheating measure. I vow to be more vigilant during exams.


I ask a colleague who seems to have been marking exams incessantly when she expects to finish. She says she'd already finished but had some scripts returned by pupils, claiming they were not marked properly. She shows me sentences highlighted in luminous yellow. In the margin, a zealous student writes: "According to the mark scheme, I am owed an extra two marks for this answer."


I still have not managed to mark some 200 scripts, although the deadline is looming. Students wanting to know their grades hound me constantly in the corridors. They have to repeat a year if they fail three or more subjects, so every grade counts.


I finally track down the student who cheated in my history exam. "I was under pressure to pass, I could not memorise everything, so I cheated," she explains. Her parents are told that she might not be allowed to graduate. I feel sorry for her. I promise to persuade the headteacher to reconsider his decision. Our chat is interrupted by a colleague who tells me that a parent is on the phone demanding to know why his son failed his exam. Great.

The writer is a history teacher at an international school in Bogot , Colombia. She wants to remain anonymous

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