Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One of Many Flaws

Let's talk about just one of many flaws in the Ecuadorian educational system. Forget for a minute that they change the schedule and don't give you notification of things until a few days before. That's irrelevant for right now. Instead, let's just look at the "Suspension Exam" part of a flawed system. It's nearly impossible to fail a course down here because it's built into the culture to give you a second, maybe even a third chance. So even if you have failed the course or the final exam, you are allowed to take another test a day or two later. Basically, it's a refusal to accept that you just might not be good enough to make the cut, but rather than making you feel badly about it, they let it slide.

This is bad for many reasons. First, it allows those who probably shouldn't be passing the chance to pass again. If someone failed a course in the United States, they would have to take the entire semester over again and prove that they had learned the material this time through before they could move on. Here, however, all you need to do is take a similar exam again, which you can study the same material over again, and pass the course as if nothing happened. No one will know the difference.

The could be the reason why there are structural problems. You can see how it would cause problems if engineers and architects who shouldn't be passing their classes wind up getting jobs designing things. And let's also think about the impact it has on the teachers as well, since I'm one of them.

Knowing in advance that if you have done everything you can for a student who is going to fail, yet they will still most likely be able to pass your class, it kind of makes you feel useless to begin with. If the school isn't going to take your word for it, then it diminishes the teachers' importance. Also, it's a hassle to have to come back to the university after finals have already "ended" and give another final. And we're supposed to make up an entirely new test, which isn't the easiest thing to do on short notice. With all of that extra work in mind, it makes you want to do whatever you can to pass the student just so you don't have to deal with the aggravation. And sometimes that means passing on a student that you know doesn't really deserve to.

Another professor at the university had a problem with nepotism from his students. He had a student who was failing. They took the second chance test and failed that as well. But the student knew the director or someone in the administration, so they complained and got permission to take a third test, even though finals were officially done. So the professor had to come in at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning to give the third final exam. It's interesting to say third final exam. Usually you get the idea that the first one is final as it is. It's not rewarding the stupidity of the students or punishing them by retaking it. Rather, it's punishing the professors, who have done what they can for the students, and are then told they need to do extra work, even if they don't believe they should pass.

I'm not down here to fail students. I'm also not going to throw grades around easily for my own benefit. But I'm still a pretty easy grader compared to some other professors I've worked with, mainly because I try to think about how hard it is to speak a second language, and I know that it's nerve wracking during a test. Yet I also have to deal with the expectations of the society telling me that I need to give more chances even if I don't believe it to be deserved.

The United States is decidedly a more competitive society, whereas down in Ecuador, it's more about helping those who need is so everyone is around the same level. You can't really argue with how they want to do things, but you can look at some things around you and think to yourself, "this is why some things run differently here." And it's frustrating. You want to be able to impart some knowledge and tell, from your own perspective, why things are running incorrectly, but either no one understands or cares to do anything about it. But like I keep saying, I'm not here to revolutionize the system, just do my work and help where I can.

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