Annemarie Stolk of Cambridge Assessment English and Rosemary Flatt of Cambridge Assessment Group Print and Operations recently visited the Anglo-Mexican Foundation, which operates Cambridge Assessment English exams across Mexico, to take a closer look at their operation.
They spent three weeks based at Anglo-Mexican headquarters in Mexico City and visited several of their sub-centres throughout Mexico, where they were present at Cambridge English exams in a variety of venues.
On our first day in Mexico City, we visited the Churchill School, who were running a Cambridge English Preliminary for Schools exam session in an open-ended building. We were very impressed with the operation.
The next day we went to Anglo-Mexican headquarters for the first time. They run a massive operation, dealing with over 70,000 candidates per year.
Because of their centralised operating model, they deal with enormous amounts of exam material arriving at their location for repacking and onward dispatch to every region in Mexico.
The Anglo-Mexican runs a very organised process, but Rosemary and I identified several areas for improvement. They store and handle all materials in one small room.
We walked around the premises to look for space: storage space for non-confidential material but also space for people.
We had a brainstorm and came up with several suggestions as to how the office spaces and logistics room can be set up differently to create more room, and make for a more organised environment.
Later in our visit, Rosemary led a ‘continuous improvement’ workshop for Anglo-Mexican staff.
Centre Exams Manager Ileana and her team really think of everything when they prepare the material for the exams.
They provide venues with CD players, digital clocks, invigilator packs including measuring tape for the tables, white board marker, white board eraser, ziplock bags and containers for mobile devices. Nothing is left to chance!
Air pollution causes issues
Mexico City is known for its occasional air pollution warnings. Heavy road use and booming industry mean the government sometimes issues air pollution warnings to protect citizens.
An air pollution alert was issued during our trip, with implications for Anglo-Mexican.
It meant that some pupils were absent from exams due to schools closing their doors, or parents keeping their children at home. The alert was lifted during our visit, fortunately it looks like the impact on absent candidates was not too high.
Rosemary and I worked with Anglo-Mexican to assess the situation on a day-to-day basis, supporting them and liaising with colleagues in Cambridge.
When we were lucky enough to have a day off we visited the world famous Teotihuacán archaeological site and pyramids, about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City.
Rosemary wisely left it to me to climb both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon to take some pictures.
I am happy I went up, the views were amazing, but it took a bit of effort at this altitude!
There were several groups of secondary school students at Teotihuacán asking tourists if they could practice their English and film the conversation. We immediately said yes of course! We naturally recommended that they take one of our tests in the future as well.
Santa Maria Regla and Pachuca
After a very good night’s sleep in the quiet mountain hacienda of Santa Maria Regla, we hit the mountain roads on our way to the town of Pachuca. When we arrived, we were greeted by mother and daughter Diana and Marianna Peña, who are running a newly opened exam sub centre.
Diana has been working with Anglo-Mexican for the last 10 years and before that she was a teacher.
After that, we visited the nearby Colegio Adam Smith. Our Key and Preliminary exams are part of the curriculum that the students take in year 6 and year 9. We met with several of the students and were very impressed with the level of English.
Mexico City and La Paz, Baja California Sur
We visited our first Young Learners English exam at the Universidad Intercontinental Campus Roma in Colonia Roma (yes the same district that is featured in the film Roma, go and see it!)
Only half the candidates were able to attend this exam due to the air pollution situation. Ileana explained that the students were all from a private primary school with very low tuition fees in an underprivileged area of Mexico State.
We returned to UIC Roma a few days later, when more than 250 candidates were taking their speaking exam for Cambridge English Key, Preliminary and First for Schools.
Due to the large amount of candidates, Anglo-Mexican had to dispatch a large team to ensure the smooth running of this session. We were very impressed with the way everything was organised and how well the team works together.
La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
After a very bumpy flight, we landed in the blazing hot desert beach town of La Paz in Baja California Sur.
A quick taxi ride later, we found ourselves at the Instituto Billingüe del Valle Elementary School to meet the local Anglo-Mexican representative Mariluz Rodriguez and observe a late afternoon Key for Schools speaking test session.
The evening ended with some tasty food at the seafront where Rosemary could indulge in people watching, and I could look at the pelicans and frigate birds that kept flying over during our meal.
The ride to Cabo was absolutely stunning, travelling through cactus-filled desert with mountains in the background and the occasional glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Amazing views all the way down and loads of Turkey Vultures, so I was a happy camper.
Mariluz wanted to introduce us to her Cabo team and show us around a new international school. Once we arrived, we were greeted by the lovely Maribel, Cristina and Lulu and treated to an amazing spread of snacks and a fascinating tour of the building. Maribel is the coordinator of the school and has great ambitions for Cambridge Exams.
Tuxtla and San Cristobal de las Casas
In Chiapas state we visited another one of the four newly established sub centres, where centre exams manager Vanessa showed us exam sessions in both Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
We were woken by the screeching of a variety of tropical birds, however the panoramic views of Tuxtla and the surrounding mountains from the breakfast hall made up for our early alarm.
At Rufino Tamayo Educational Centre in Tuxtla, school coordinator Miss Alba gave us the customary emergency exit instructions, which in this region focus on earthquakes – they apparently happen all the time…
The weather was extremely humid and hot (but a cool day according to Vanessa). Smart work attire, 33 degrees and 98% humidity definitely do not go well together! We couldn’t wait to get to San Cristóbal, which is high in the mountains.
San Cristóbal de las Casas, known in the native Tzotzil language as Jovel, is located at an altitude of 2,200 metres, surrounded by mountains and alpine forests.
It has a very pleasant climate – with temperatures in the twenties it was the coolest place we visited.
We walked through busy food markets and stalls of gorgeous brightly coloured embroidered fabrics, hand-made and sold by the indigenous people of this region.
About 30% of the population of San Cristóbal speak an indigenous language. The two most important ethnic groups in the area are the Tzotzil and Tzetzal Maya.
Most speakers are bilingual with Spanish as a second language. In Central Chiapas, some schools teach in Tzotzil.
Back to Mexico City
Our flight back from Chiapas was very nice, we flew along the Gulf of Mexico coastline for a while and I got a very good view of the Pico de Orizaba volcano, also known as Citlaltépetl. At 5,636 meters, it's the highest peak in Mexico.
We had an amazing time in Mexico. It was a rollercoaster full of colour, crazy hard work, but also so much fun, opportunities, ideas and new experiences every day.
We cannot thank Ileana and all the wonderful staff at the Anglo-Mexican Foundation enough! We learned so much and brought a wealth of information back to Cambridge.
¡Muchas gracias a todos! ¡Esperamos volver a vernos amigos! (Thank you very much to all! We hope to see each other again!)
Senior Operations Manager, Cambridge English