SLC bluesWhich grading system is used is not as significant as what or how students learn
The annual nationwide School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination is set to begin tomorrow. The exam is widely referred to as The Iron Gate—conveying the sense that it is rigorous and passing it is tantamount to overcoming an arduous hurdle for the students. A total of 615,553 examinees are appearing for the SLC this year, up from 541,551 last year.
The exam is indeed difficult to clear for a majority of students, with the pass percentage usually hovering below 50 percent. Around 47.4 percent of the examinees had passed last year—the highest pass percentage since 2011, when it was 55 percent. The “failure” rate is higher among students from public schools.
Whether the figures reflect the rigour of the exam is, however, questionable. Many allege that the figures are more a reflection of the poor quality of education, particularly in government schools, and outdated methods of pedagogy and assessment. Some argue that the exam is in fact relatively easy for those who can memorise facts.
Also questionable is the rationale behind the adoption of the letter grading system from this year. The Ministry of Education (MoE) decided to adopt the new grading system just over three months ago. According to the new provision, students securing between 90 and 100 marks will get an A+, followed by A (80 to 89), B+ (70 to 79), B (60 to 69), C+ (50 to 59), C (40 to 49), D+ (30 to 39), D (20 to 29), and E (below 20).
Some students and education specialists accuse the MoE of making the decision without proper homework. Basu Dev Kafle, an educationist, argues that the perfunctory adoption of the new system has resulted in confusion both among the students and parents, and that the government authorities have failed to understand the “true meaning of letter grading”. Government officials dismiss the charges and claim that the change is an attempt at improving the evaluation process by harmonising it with the international system, and that the remaining shortcomings will be gradually remedied.
While trying out ways to bring about improvements is welcome, the MoE apparantly did not give adequate time and consideration to making the latest decision and communicating its merits to the students. Whether or not one examination should hold so much importance is a separate topic for debate, but the fact remains that the SLC is considered momentous by a huge number of students. A decision about such an exam should have been better thought-out and communicated.
A more cynical interpretation of the decision is that it is an attempt to divert attention away from the real problems plaguing the public education system. No student will “fail” under the new system, so the authorities will be relieved from having to explain why so many students do not clear the exam year after year. Although an overwhelming majority of our politicians are products of the public education system, they have little interest in improving it as long as their children get private education.
More broadly, what and how students learn in the classrooms has more meaningful and far-reaching consequences than how many points or what grades they score in an exam. Education should stimulate rather than instil fear and confusion in students.