Shame-laden certificateWhen thousands fail SLC exams in all eight subjects, so do we
That over 10,000 students failed to pass a single subject in School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams this year is an utter disgrace to our education system. Even a hardened critic bumbles for words at this revelation made on Sunday in front of the parliamentary subcommittee on education. That children struggle in Maths, Science and English was no news. That public schools have failed communities, despite relatively decent remunerations for their teachers and millions spent in teacher trainings and in formulating new policies, is also an old story. Have we then grown so enured to these failure statistics that we forgot the data have faces?
The only good thing about the revelation is that it is revealed. The two government bodies, Office of the Controller of Examinations and the Education Review Office, need to be praised for sharing the statistics at all. No one knows how many children we have so absolutely betrayed every year, dangling the promise of education only to have them frustrated and recite the same old bunkum: padhera ko thulo bhachha ra (Who has shone big through education?) This new information could force us to review our education strategies. So far we have been poring heavily on the pass rate, on increasing it, so much that the SLC has become a numbers game. Once the results are out, education pundits either celebrate the increment in the pass percentage (43.92 this year, up from 41.57 the previous year) or lash out against the high failure percentage. We rarely go beyond superficial, rounded-up data and look into the details, where effective intervention lies.
The blame game for the astounding failure has already begun. Some are quick to assert that the liberal promotion policy, introduced in 2005, which allows a student to be upgraded to the higher grade without the nerve-wracking end-of-year exams, is to be challenged. It allows weaker students to stagger to the ‘Iron Gate’, the SLC. Others have pointed fingers at the scrapping of the send-up or test exams in 2012. Send-up exams used to filter SLC-‘fit’ students from the ‘unfit’. But, barring ‘weaker’ students from appearing in 10th-grade exams either through strict promotion system or through send-ups is only juking the stats. It does not change the reality that thousands of children are unable to understand what they are taught.
The repercussions of this truth are unimaginable. The policy-makers need to sit upright and look carefully at the flaws; not just at what works but also, and perhaps primarily, at what does not. If negligent teachers and schools are indeed using the liberal promotion policy to haphazardly push students up the levels, a strong monitoring mechanism needs to be set up. More importantly, the government, the schools, the teachers and the guardians need to internalise that SLC is not the outcome of two years of studies; it starts at the primary level and each brick on the foundation matters. The government’s spending on education is currently inconsiderately lop-sided, with 80 percent of the budget spent on paying teachers’ salaries. The government needs to concentrate equally on classrooms and communities.