Monday, April 20, 2009

Medals are for winners!

Entering any Mongolian household, you are bound to find medals proudly displayed as a centerpiece in the living room. From sports medals (chiefly volleyball), to dancing and singing medals, to the all important academic medals; Mongolians are obsessed with giving out and getting these marks of achievements. I don’t know if it’s a relic of the Soviet influenced past but competitions and the presentation of medals in general are always happening in one form or another.

This past weekend I was privileged (don’t know if that’s the correct word for it) enough to be a judge for the most important academic competition of the year, the annual Olympiad. I was an English judge, but there were competitions in all subjects ranging from Physics, Mathematics, Russian, and even an I.Q. test. This yearly contest is held across Mongolia around the same time in all of its different provinces. In Dornod aimag, each school is given a quota of 1 or 2 students per subject per grade. So the students that come in for the competitions are the best in their school. Students were not the only participants vying for these prestigious medals, teachers were also involved and were competing for bragging rights and maybe even pay raises.

On the morning of the competition, which was on a Saturday, a group of VSOs (British volunteers) and Peace Corps volunteers were ready at 8 AM to begin judging the English Olympiad. As this was our first Olympics, we had no idea what to expect. What we didn’t know was that we were in for the long haul. The master copy of the test came at 8:10 or so, the test was to begin at 9. There were three different versions, one for the 9th graders, 11th graders, and a teacher’s test. We looked through the test to find mistakes (the English tests are infamously known for errors) and were happy to find that there were only a few minor hiccups that can be easily corrected. As the clock draws closer to 9, we had one copy machine to share between all the different tests. The I.Q. people got in before us and made their copies, then the Physics tests were copied, and then it was finally our chance to make the 500 or so sheets of copies that we needed. As we were making copies, we had to also come up with a rubric for grading the speaking portion of the test since the creators of the exam did not have one for us to use. By the time we finished making all the copies, it was 10 or so and the participants were restless and anxious to get it under way.

The test was broken down into 3 portions: speaking, listening, and writing with the majority of the points given to writing portion because it included the all important essay. The writing was straightforward, the listening was a problem because the CD that was provided to us didn’t work, but was resolved with us reading the transcript, and the speaking was a challenge because we had 8 interviewers for 90 or so participants. After all the tests were collected, we had to correct all of them. We decided to mark everything except for the essay, which were to be done the next day. It was the best decision that we made because we were running out of fumes as it was closing on 6 o’clock by the time we were finished correcting the multiple choice section.

The next day, over mimosas and snacks we all convened again to make a rubric and collectively grade the essays. There were differences of opinions on how each essay was to be scored; some were hooked on the students’ ideas and creativity while others were strictly grading based on the question and answer. We started at 10 AM and ended at 4 PM. There were great essays that made us think, good essays that made us laugh, and deplorable essays that just made us cry and cringe.

The Olympiad is something else! A total mess in terms of organization and logistics (though it was not the fault of the local people because they were given the test just one hour before the test) this year, but I guess that is something to take from all of this. Next year we will be better prepared.


No comments: