Gave my Midterm in Cross-Cultural Leadership Yesterday Afternoon

  How to make coffee

Coffee making equipment

 I wrote 40 multiple choice questions which were to be divided into two tests each with 20 questions. I had to also provide the answers. The answers had to be from either the readings, the handouts, or my power point slides. The two tests with answers would then go to the Department of Evaluation for checking and approval. The D of E would also grade the tests, using the answers provided.

I was told that I had to write two tests in case something happened, like the electricity went out. However, after he put the tests into the proper TDTU format on special exam stationary, Heiu suggested that I use both tests and go one-two-one-two, alternating them down the row “because they sit so close.”

The exam was held in a different room from our regular classroom but the same kinds of desks. Three or four people sit elbow to elbow at these desks. Nhu, the class monitor, handed the exams out. There weren’t enough so she had to run go get some more, and this created a Group Two of the students who started 10 minutes later.

It was an open book test. Not just book – it was also open laptop, open phone, open notebook. Also open friend-sitting-behind-you, which pretty much defeated the purpose of one-two-one-two. To say nothing of the fact that laptops were shared – often a whole row was sharing a laptop. I noticed a couple of kids — boys — who were sitting at the ends of rows and didn’t really get a look at the common laptop. They looked a little lost.

As soon as the tests were distributed there began a constant murmur. Some of it was people reading aloud, but other parts of it were people simply having conversations, discussing the questions (but in Vietnamese, of course, so I didn’t really know).

The test was supposed to be one hour. They finished early. We struggled through some other exercises and then I let them go 10 minutes before class was supposed to be over. I hope the Department of Evaluation doesn’t hear about this.

This evening I looked up Zero De Conduite and watched it. Made me feel better.

I now have students from this class friending me on Facebook, which sounds like “futhbow” when spoken by a Vietnamese. If any of you are reading this, go watch Zero de Conduite.

Hieu saw me in the hall this evening and told me that he had graded the exams (not the Department of Evaluation  – I must have misunderstood) and that they turned out very well. Most students got nearly 10 points. The lowest was a 7. He also said that he noted that some people got the same wrong answer.

When I walked down a hall later I saw students taking an exam. they were sitting one person per bench, zig-zag so no one was behind someone else.

I am going to have to learn something about classroom discipline. I am really at a loss for what to do. I keep telling my self that I don’t care if they all get good grades, all I care is that they’re learning something.

I am also going to re-read Madame Binh’s description of the way the educational system was set up following the American War. That was only 40 years ago. This is a young educational system!  She was Minister of Education starting in 1976. In the North, education was a priority even during the war. Illiteracy had been nearly eradicated. In the South, illiteracy was high and schools existed only in the cities and in some places along the national highways. She writes:

We organized a major mobilization to send northern teachers to support the southern provinces…During 1977 and 1978, several thousand teachers from northern provinces answered the ministry’s appeal and volunteered to serve in the southern provinces.

By 1983, she says, the Ministry had a network of public schools in every southern province, district and commune. But getting enough teachers trained was another matter. They had a word for it when a teacher had students who were only one grade or less below them: “Rice dipped in rice.”  This reminds me of the literacy campaigns in Nicaragua and Cuba. She visited the Ha Noi Pedagogical Institute and says she “immediately felt uneasy. The students’ situation was impossible. They had to eat standing up, for there were no chairs. Each table had a pot of rice, a dish of salted vegetables, and a bowl of “pilotless” [meatless] soup. Each student had a bowl and a spoon. That’s how they ate!”

Teacher’s living conditions were very bad. “We were desperately poor,” she says. “People had nothing” (354). One school got permission from the local authorities to plant 10 lychee trees at an educational office. That was enough to “improve teacher’s livelihoods” (342). Other sites copied this idea.

In this midst of all this came the attacks from Pol Pot in Cambodia against southwestern Vietnam and the Border War with China and conditions got worse.

But in 1983, vocational training schools were established. “All teachers and students both studied and did manual labor.” The idea was “take productive labor into the schools: (353).  Students planted trees, built factory schools and planted experimental agricultural fields and gardens for traditional medicine. A”study and work” model of schooling had in fact been started in Vietnam back in 1974 to enable older rural youth to get some schooling. This model was followed by Cuba. Students at these schools produced things ranging from cassava to pottery to educational materials and kindergarten toys.

But in the midst of the extreme poverty shared by everyone, “anyone making even the smallest profit from a creative enterprise suffered from police watchers and became the topic of malicious gossip”(355).

Unfortunately, instead of seeing the movement’s larger meaning, some people intervened and stopped the students’ activities because these initiatives were “beyond” the very strict socio-political-economic limits enforce by the “economic police” at a time when we had an extremely rigorous model of socialism (348). 

The days when the “economic police” could shut down a school because it was supporting itself by selling vegetables are gone. Now there seem to be universities everywhere. This is in the span of time since Gabi and Jake were kids going to school in Berkeley.

But when we got our exams back, in big brown envelopes sealed with tape and with all the names of students torn off, it turns out that the Department of Evaluation doesn’t actually grade them (even though we provided answers so that they could grade them). Instead, we grade them and then the Department of Evaluation picks out one or two randomly and checks the way we grade them against the answers we previously provided, and compares them with the answers we provided, to make sure that we are not corrupt and giving good grades to students who don’t deserve them.

If they should happen to choose a paper that has an answer that we didn’t forsee, and we gave credit for it, what will they do?

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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