Monday, June 6, 2016

Potato, Potahto

During the first week of each new term I am supposed to record the final grades for my students. As I tally grades between my spreadsheet and my hard copy mark book, I always have to do the reconciliation of names. This happens every term and it drives me absolutely crazy. Who knew how difficult it would be just to record a score for the right student? This is a problem here in Malawi for several reasons.

1) It seems like all kids here have between 3-4 names, and they randomly switch between them on homework, quizzes and exams. One kid will go by one name the whole term, then on his exam will use a different combination of names (like the first name and then one of their middle names, without their surname) and totally throw me off. It doesn't help that certain names like Precious, Chisomo (which means Grace), Mphatso (which means gift) and John are common here, so you can't always figure out who is who if you only recognize one name.

2) Kids also like to switch between the English and Chichewa versions of their name (like Mphatso and Gift), so sometimes I have to use my Chichewa dictionary to record a homework assignment. This is a good way to learn new Chichewa words, I guess. But annoying when you are working under a deadline.

3) The kids also switch up the spellings of their names. They will add letters or subtract letters, seemingly on a whim. Based on my observations, there is no one correct way to spell your name in Malawi.  I see this happen with students as well as with the teachers. I'm not really sure why.
= Maybe it is because Chichewa is considered more a spoken language than a written one, so spelling isn't considered as important? For example, I've seen three different spellings alone for n'gaiwa, the whole-grain maize which is a staple food here in Malawi.
-Plus in Chichewa the "l" and the "r" are interchangeable.  You can literally pronounce either one with an "l" or an "r" sound. That makes spelling those words a challenge. Which makes recording grades a nuisance for me.

The coolest example of a student changing their spelling was a girl with the surname "Leonard". She always spells it like that now, but on my intial attendance sheet the first day of class she spelled it Lynard, like Lynard Skynard. I don't think she knows who they are, but it made me smile.

A sidenote on spelling of names-- I tried using the school register lists during the first term to get the correct spellings, but those were actually worse. The way kids register for school is that a parent meets with the Form Teacher, and verbally provides the parent's name, student name, student age and the village where they live.  Since it is all verbal, the teachers that register the students just spell the name however it sounds to them. I never hear any confirmation of the spelling. (The l/r things comes up big time during school registration. I see lots of Arfreds). So trying to make out the messy scrawls of my students on their notebooks is actually more accurate. Maybe. All in all though, it's not a big deal because the spelling of names just doesn't matter here.  Well, to anyone except to me.

4) Kids like to write nicknames on their notebooks, and then all of a sudden pull out their real name on the last exam. That happened just recently with a student that had gone by "Junior" all term. Then all of a sudden he writes "Raphael" on his exam, and I was wondering who this new student was, until I saw the common surname. And saw that Junior was missing a final exam score. You have to be Sherlock Holmes to be a teacher here.

5) The class roster changes a lot. Kids change school a lot here, and there is no formal communication to the teachers of this. In a class of 80 students where only 1/2 to 3/4 show up on a regular basis, it is hard to know who is missing or new. So when I have a student that did not take a test, I don't know if they were absent, changed schools, or just randomly changed the name they wrote on their paper. It can be frustrating.

Here are some examples of the ways kids change up their names:
  • Blessings Chimanga vs Blessings Chimanga Hornest vs Ernest Mphatso Chimanga (adding in new names, dropping others later-- why????)
  • Supuni, Spoon (switching between the Chichewa name and the English translation)
  • Justin, Justine (adding in an extra letter)
  • Swally, Mswali (changing spelling)
  • Vincent, Vinsenti (changing spelling, adding a letter)
  • One of my students just wrote "Lee Gangsta" on his notebook, but that turned out to be just his nickname.  Yeah, thanks. You are getting a zero, buddy. Just kidding...

So my mark book is full of cross-outs, and my spreadsheet has an extra column for "Other Names" and somehow I get by. It's funny because I used to be such a stickler for spelling people's names correctly. I considered it a matter of politeness and respect. But I have been living in Malawi so that has required me to adapt to my host country while I am here. So in that spirit, I spell my name different here too (Stesi).  And I even switch between the English spelling and the Chichewa spelling of my name a lot, which really confuses the other PCVs, but the Malawians don't seem to mind. Integration!

No comments:

Post a Comment