Today was the first day of the University of Guyana's fall semester, and like all the first days of all the other semesters that have come before it, this day was one of confusion and disorder. It seems the way universities down here, and perhaps in many places throughout the Caribbean and the world, register their students for class is for them to show up on the first day and basically bid for when they want the classes to be held.
The lead teacher, in this case the Head of the Education and Humanities division, takes the stage in a large auditorium and commences to draw a weekly calendar on the chalkboard. Each day except weekends is represented by a column. In each column are three boxes, one marking the 10 am - noon block, the 1 pm - 3 pm block, and the 4 pm - 6 pm block. At this time he asks everyone in attendence to refer to their timetables and he goes block by block to see when everyone is free. They must have both a lecture and a tutorial, one to be on either Monday or Tuesday and the other to be held Thursday or Friday. Every time he asked about a specific time block, those with scheduling conflicts would raise their hands. Where the fewest amount of scheduling conflicts arise is where the class is set for the rest of the fall.
In this case, everyone had scheduling conflicts all over the place on Monday, so Tuesday looks better for the lecture. Wednesday is reserved for a special reading comprehension class. Then most people found Friday to be better than Thursday. Even as he was approaching getting a final solution, more people would trickle in (late!) and he would have to go back over the whole thing again. And, of course, since only about one-quarter of all the students who registered for fall classes actually showed up today, all this will have to be reorganized again. And again. And again. In fact, he told me no schedule would be considered locked in place for seven weeks!
So I'll be back there sometime later this week -- still not clear whether that will be Thursday or Friday -- to cover my first class. Early on I'm to administer some kind of diagnostic test to see just where the skill set of the students selected for my class lies. The whole process is sheer madness. A whole week, even more, is wasted on scheduling business that should be an elementary matter. Students should have a list of classes with pre-assigned slots and they choose the one that fits their schedule, or none. Instead, the class is trying to fit the student's schedule.
But at least I am starting to work out a really cool Peace Corps assignment. I'm looking forward to this class. I've been given free reign to design and implement the course as I see fit, putting together what basically amounts to an honors section of the course, with only 20 - 25 students for both the lecture and tutorial sections. All I have to do is make sure they aquire the same skill set as the normal lectures, but they want me to expand the class to encompass essay writing and perhaps literature. I am basically to take the top-performing students, the ones who would be shiftless and bored in an unchallenging grammar lecture course, and put them through their paces, see what they're capable of. All this will get started in earnest next week.
More to come.