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June 27, 2004

The Briefcase

Last evening I was sitting in my apartment when I heard Liz and Dunaliz (AKA Dee) leaving. Liz called to me and we chatted for a bit and then she said she and Dee were going up to a BBQ at the school and told me to come along. I quickly changed and hopped in the car. As we were talking, Dee said that she wasn't feeling well and told me that she had a fever and her bones hurt. We got on another random subject, but it came up again at the BBQ and I asked her if she thought it was Dengue Fever(a mosquito borne illness marked with aching bones and fever). She said perhaps and as were were deciding the diagnosis, Liz interjected that it might be "the briefcase". I looked at her quite puzzled and she started to explain the origins of the name.

She said that Grenadians always make up a name for different cold and flu strands that pass. Dengue or even "the flu" is never called that. Instead they are named in honor of cultural events going on. For instance, a few years back when Montserrat had it's volcano erupting, the had quite a few wild donkeys that they needed to get rid of to save their lives. The government was essentially giving them away to regional islands who would give them a good home. Grenada's prime minister "adopted" some onto Grenada. That same year when the flu struck, it was forever known as "the donkey"--as in "He's got the donkey" or "She's not's the donkey".

So, where does "the briefcase" fit in? Well, a few weeks ago, the current prime minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, raised suspicion when an offshore corruption agency accused him of taking $500,000 USD from a German supporter. He claims that the money was all legal and went into the treasury. However, a receipt of the money or proof of the amount and what it was used for is yet to be found. His critics are claiming that instead of a legitimate exhange, the money entered the country with Dr. Mitchell guessed it...a briefcase! You can bet I'm taking my Vitamin C. I wanna avoid this briefcase thing if at all possible!

The other major event going on right now is Common Entrance Exams. As I have said before, Primary School here is provided (mandated actually) for all students. Secondary School, however, must be earned. Grenada is moving towards universal secondary school within 10 years, but in the meantime, there are limited spots. Students who are 11 years old (Grade 6) can take the Common Entrance Exam which is comprised of a multiple choice test (Social Science, Natural Science, Language Arts and Math) and a written component. The number of students who "pass" the test is based on the number of spots available in secondary for the following year. A 70% may get you a spot one year, whereas the next year, you might need 75%. This year of the 3,246 students who took it, 1,400 will receive placements. Those who do not, will remain in primary school and get chances again in Grade 7 or 8. (After that, many students either drop out or go to Skills Training Centers). Apparently the number of students admitted this year was smaller because of an agreement between the Grenada Union of Teachers and the Ministry to reduce class size in secondary schools. I doubt that the teachers were actually advocating for less children to get education and instead for more to get a quality education, but apparently that's not what happened.

As you might imagine, being a special educator who was skeptical of high stakes testing back in the states, I'm not entirely enthusiastic about a system that determines your educational future on one signle testing day. As with many things in the educational system here though, that goes into the category of "Can't Change So Don't Try". What possibly scared me even more than this testing system was when I picked up the local paper this past Friday. I browsed through it and saw lists of testing reporting similar to what is done back home with school by school reports on the state educational assessments. On closer inspection though, I noticed that it was a list of all the secondary schools and the names of those students admitted and what primary school they attend. In a country that spreads information verbally faster than a 7th grade clique, I suppose there is some value in at least having accurate information reported. However, being someone who works to safeguard confidentiality for the students I work with, I am quite concerned about the implied news of who's not listed. I guess you can look it that everyone is going to know in a year anyway, but it still doesn't settle well with me.

Well, two more weeks of this school year and I have a strong feeling that these two will be about as productive as any school is in the lat two weeks of the school year! I'm already looking forward to all the end of the school year parties, graduations, festivals, etc. As I've said before, Grenadians like to party at any occasion they can and what better occasion than the end of the school year! P.S. Grenada and the US recently played a World Cup Qualifier game here in Grenada in which many of the volunteers from here and other islands attended. We had a blast and enjoyed our co-cheering! You can check out some pics from the day here.