Yesterday evening the rain started to fall. Not particularly hard, but steady for some time. Yesterday evening was also the second goodbye party for Steven in as many days. It was nice and relaxing and just a few doors down from where we’re living now in the old guest house. If you haven’t read this blog for a year or are not a former volunteer who has worked at AGU, then you don’t know what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Every year the foreign volunteers are asked to move out for a period of time while they overtake our house with photocopy machines and seal the place with paper so no one can see through the windows or anything. They do this to copy and prepare the AGU entrance exam. These entrance exams are taken very seriously (last year there was one available slot for every 15-20 students that took the exam), and hence the exams are protected with the most secrecy that this culture can muster up. Because of all the secrecy, all the foreigners have to move out to a place called the old guest house. The rooms are a little smaller and not quite as nice, but they are still rather quiet and pleasant. However my cat is taking some time to get used to the new location. And they are currently remodeling the room next to mine, which usually means an early wake-up with some kind of loud construction noise.
This whole entrance exam business leads to a discussion of academic ethics in Vietnam. Students here are taught to respect their teachers and not to question their judgment. Students stand up to attention when I walk into a classroom. They nod deeply to show respect to teachers. However, there is a horrible epidemic of cheating on exams here. These two things are incompatible in my mind: respecting teachers yet cheating on exams. Having just finished grading nearly 100 literature exams less than a week ago, I know that many students were cheating (they all had the same answers!!), but I’m not allowed to give/monitor my own exams, for fear that a student may bribe me for a better grade. So the task is given to other “impartial” teachers, who turn a blind eye to cheating, and then I am handed exams to grade that are very suspiciously similar. I don’t know how or why this culture of cheating on exams is permitted within a culture that ostensibly says it honors teachers near the same level as parents. I’ve read on the news that cheating on university entrance exams is also endemic in China, so perhaps it is an East-Asian culture thing. But these two things–respect for teachers and accepted cheating on exams–are two things that do not logically fit together in one culture in my mind.
I’ve thought about where I went to college, Bluffton, and how we had an honor code there, so exams weren’t even monitored. I’ve thought about what would happen if I tried that here. Students would just cheat; they have no honor or true respect for their teachers.