In our work for YAN, there are busy weeks, and there are slow weeks. This past week was decidedly one of the latter. The reason, as we explained in last week’s post, has to do with the high-stakes standardized exams that students must take here. Cameroon is divided into Anglophone and Francophone regions based upon how the country was divided by the British and French governments during the colonial era. In Anglophone Cameroon (our region), the education system roughly mirrors the British educational system, while in Francophone Cameroon, the education system roughly follows the French equivalent. Among other things, this means that Anglophone students in Form 5 (equivalent to 10th grade) and in Upper Sixth (equivalent to 12th grade) must take a series of high-stakes exams known as the G.C.E Ordinary-Levels and the G.C.E. Advanced Levels, respectively. These exams are not given until June, after other students have been dismissed for summer vacation. However, they have already started to impact our classes in several ways.

In Limbe and Molyko, we don’t have many students in Form 5 or Upper Sixth, meaning that most of our students are not concerned (at least this year) with the impending tests. However, for those students who will be taking the G.C.E.s this year, registering for them is quite a process. Students must arrive at the registration center with completed paperwork, money to pay for exams, and a birth certificate photocopy, and then must fill out an online form and have a picture taken (the exams, incidentally, can be very expensive; it costs around 5,000 FCFA, or $10, for each subject tested, and students must in at least 11 different subjects). Thousands of students at each school sign up for the G.C.E every year, often all congregating around one operational computer. Because our classes in Limbe and Molyko take place in the only internet-connected location on campus, we have gotten a front row seat to all of the action: lines of students waiting hours to have a photo taken, teachers trying in vain to move students where they belong, registration computers crashing, electricity flickering—in short, a logistical nightmare that somehow seems to get worked out in the end. Sadly, one result of G.C.E registration at Molyko has been to displace our YAN classes to an older computer lab with Internet that is snail’s pace-slow.

Luckily, in Buea Town we haven’t been displaced from our usual class space. However, about half of our students are in Form 5 and will have to take the G.C.E O-level exams in about 6 months.  For the past two weeks our form 5 students have been dismissed from school to take the “pre-mock” O-level—an exam to prepare for the mock exam, which will take place in March (which of course is an exam to prepare for the real exam in June). As a result, our classes have shrunk considerably, just for this week—where we usually see 24 students, all on-time and ready to work, today we saw just 8.


None of these situations is ideal, but we have tried to make do, and have ended up having some fun classes as a result. The curriculum we have written for this week calls for students to work in their research groups to update their websites with the information they have gathered about their project topic. However, due to our tiny classes and limited internet, we’ve traded WordPress for Microsoft Word, and so our classes this week have ended up involving a lot of quiet work-time for students to collaborate on typing up their research. For us, this has meant a lot of walking throughout our classrooms, checking in with students regularly to see how they’re doing, help them with editing their work, and provide positive feedback. Of course, we’ve also tried to keep things fun by playing lots of music—our Buea Town Tuesday class, seems to prefer Michael Jackson’s Thriller, while students in Molyko were more into the contemporary stylings of Flo Rida and Carly Rae Jepsen.

In all of our classes, it has been gratifying to see students getting down to work and making their research projects truly their own. Our older students in Buea Town have been particularly quick to settle into concentrated work, talking with partners about what to write and then diving into typing (albeit sometimes, in hunt-and-peck style, with just an index finger).  After an hour and a half of solid work, they uniformly asked us for more class time. In fact, one girl politely informed me that she was not ready to shut down her computer because she was hard at work, and could I please come back in ten minutes to check in—all without looking up from her computer screen. Our younger students in Molyko had a bit more trouble getting started, but with a little cajoling, we were thrilled at how much they accomplished in a short two hours. 

As class ended at Buea Town this past afternoon, we gathered our students’ writings using flash drives, so that we can provide some feedback on their work and redistribute it to them to be uploaded onto their WordPress websites next week. I sent one such file from my computer to Clara’s using Bluetooth, and a student watching over my shoulder was intrigued by this wireless technology. As we were packing up for the day, our tech-savvy students quickly figured out how to use Photobooth and Bluetooth together to take photos and send them—Clara was soon inundated with goofy pictures that students were sending from my computer to hers. Beware of allowing teenage boys to play around with Photobooth—some rather silly things can start to happen. 


P.S. Quick culinary update: the avocado that fell on my head ripened in a day or two, and we mashed it up with lime, salt, garlic, and cumin on Tuesday to create a very tasty guacamole. Our next gastronomic endeavor will be to develop a good recipe for corn tortillas. We have already ground several pounds of dried corn that were generously given to us by a friend’s family, so we’re well on our way to bringing a bit of Costa Rica to Cameroon. Also, although they were initially battered by the avocado’s swift descent from the trees, my glasses—and my face—are none the worse for wear.