Basotho students must take three national exams throughout their education and each test determines passage to the next level. They are taken at the ends of primary school (Standard 7), secondary school (Form C) and high school (Form E). The exams are about three weeks long beginning in late October and very intense.
My school is a secondary school, although we taught one Form E student this past year, the big focus is the JC Exam or the one students take at the end of Form C. Most of secondary – Form A to Form C – is spent preparing students to pass this test. If they do so, they can move on to Form D in high school. If not, they repeat. If they fail a second time they must go back to Form B. The results come out each January, before the next year starts, so students know what form – and for my school, what high school – to enter.
It’s a lot of pressure to teach up to this exam and why PCVs are not allowed to teach the external classes – Form E and Form C – in their first year.
Last year, only four of about 30 students from my school passed. It was a dismal start to the year, my first at the school. As the year progressed, it seemed as if the scores wouldn’t be any better this go around. I wasn’t teaching the students, but I saw them enough outside of class to know their English might not be up to the standards of the JC. And, if a student fails English but passes the other subjects, she still fails.
The results came out last week. I was nervous about what they could mean. There are some issues at my school (which I will not discuss on this blog while I am a volunteer) and these JC scores could make or break the school. One of the teachers came in the day after they were released with the news.
Of 23 students, 13 passed, giving the school a 56 percent passing rate. That was far better than any of the teachers expected. Although we had no first classes (the students are ranked into classes depending on their scores), we had six second classes and seven third classes. This was unbelievable news.
That day one of the Form C students came into the computer lab where I was working and I asked her about her score because I hadn’t seen the list. “Bo-ntate (teachers at the school) say that I got second class but I don’t believe them,” she said trying to hide her smile. She did.
A few days later, I saw the list and noted the names. One of the second classes was the school’s head boy, who happened to be around the school’s grounds that day. When I saw him, I greeted him as “Mr. Second Class.” His long-stretched grin stayed on his face for several minutes.
My school desperately needed good JC results and we got them, giving me hope for this next year. This success has little to do with me, but it was a win for us all. Even though my teaching career will likely end when my service does, I am excited for a new year at the school and to see the students again. Some days, it feels like our work reaps little progress but then something comes along, such as these scores, to remind us we are not doing such a terrible job after all.
It’s an exciting feeling, but what is better is knowing that 13 students will now move on to high school to further their education and continuing laying the foundation for a good life. That, to me, is what matters the most.