At my SMA (high school), the twelfth graders spend the first six weeks of the semester preparing for the national exam, while 10th and 11th grade classes go on as usual.
Enter March: the weirdest month in the Indonesian school year, and most boring for the average volunteer.
The last week of February/first week of March at my school was called “praktek.” Basically, classes across all grades were canceled so the administration and 12th graders could practice working through the exam schedule to ensure all students were where they needed to be and all technology was properly functioning.
This entire week was basically a dress rehearsal in which students and teachers shuffled about to act as though they were taking/administering a test, and the whole practice ended around noon every day. Then, everyone went home. Grades 10th and 11th were excused for the entire week.
The first full week of March was grade 12 SMAN1 Panawangan exams. A week of exams where the scores were only reported to our school’s administration, the teachers, and the students. These scores were then (supposedly) used to gage what students needed to study more before the national exam. 10th and 11th grades did not have class during the exam week.
The second week of March was normal class for all students.
The third week was once again 12th grade exams, so 10th and 11th grades did not have class. This time, exam scores would be reported to the provincial educational office. More or less, to gage how the curriculum was working, and which schools were the best, which were the worst.
The final week of March was back to class for all 10th and 11th grade students as was the first week of April. Two whole consecutive weeks of classes — huzzah!
Meanwhile, the 12th grade class time was used as a free study hall. The 12th grade teachers did not attend these study sessions, preferring instead, to let the students study alone.
Spoiler alert: the classrooms were almost always empty, and the students could have been on the moon for all anyone knew when I asked.
I have tried to keep my classes, as well as English club, on a fairly normal, vigorous schedule, teaching even when my counterparts choose not to join, but at the end of the day, the students aren’t interested. We play vocab games and talk about culture, but even my dedicated English club students are antsy for the Ramadan break and other various days off of school.
These weekly interruptions are what they know and expect. While in America, there are enough teachers to continue classes even while exams are proctored; here, it’s simply not possible or expected. Exams for younger students means a long-awaited holiday.
Mid-April: the Ujian Nacional, National Exam. This was the week that SMA students across Indonesia took the same exams. Indonesia’s version of the ACT or SAT. Students took these exams (10th and 11th once again were at home, excused from class), and then that was it.
Semester over, never to return to classes at the SMA level again.
The following week, 10th and 11th grade classes resumed as semi-usual. Everyone is still in a sleepy, relaxed mode of teaching. Oftentimes, class is canceled for no apparent reason or lessons are comprised of class projects that take a lot of time, but only review previous concepts.
My 10th grade classes relocated to the better, bigger, and more centrally located 12th grade rooms at my school and business commenced. For me and my small school, that meant our 405 student body is down to merely 347 students.
And somehow, I swear, it’s louder.