Looking through 'iron gate'The anxiety around SEE this year should force a rethink of Nepal’s educational evaluation system.
The Secondary Education Examination (SEE) 2020 batch deserves a big round of applause not just for having crossed the hurdle they have come to know as an 'iron gate' but also for having endured months of uncertainty about their futures. After all, the exams had been postponed just a day before the teenagers were to sit for them, leaving them aghast at the way the government functioned. It takes considerable grit to go back to reading the same old textbooks amid mystery and misinformation in the face of a pandemic.
When the government announced that SEE would be cancelled, and the students graded on the basis of their schools' internal assessments, it was considered the best way out of the imbroglio. The arrangement put the onus of honesty on the teachers, who are adept at imparting moral lessons on students. So when on Monday over 9,000 students were found to have passed the SEE 2020 with a GPA of 4.0—as compared to just over a hundred students in the previous year—all eyes were on the schools and the teachers that had the metaphorical ladle and spoon in their hands.
The dramatic rise in the number of high GPA points to a possible generosity on the part of the teachers rather than a qualitative improvement on the part of the students. After all, the commercialisation of education means that schools that are the most competitive stand to achieve the most in terms of capital accumulation. If a calf disappears the night a leopard roared in the jungle nearby, the latter becomes the natural suspect.
It turns out that a fundamental mistake had been committed while leaving the entire authority of grading in the hands of the schools. The district education offices could have been brought into action as focal institutions to keep tabs on the proceedings as well as act a check-and-balance mechanism. Why the roles of the education offices had been overlooked remains a big question. But a bigger question is whether a one-off exam at the end of an academic year helps evaluate the learning of students.
This year's SEE assessment might have been a mess, but it points to a larger problem—of considering one final exam at the end of an academic year as the arbitrary marker of the performance of a student throughout that year. SEE has become just another avatar of what it attempted to replace—the School Leaving Certificate (SLC). When SEE was introduced, and the percentage system replaced by the grading one, the idea was to downplay the reputation of the SLC exam as an iron gate. It was supposed to be a routine exam that would keep students girded to the learning process. But that was not to be.
Since the new education policy does not envision the 10th standard as a terminal degree, there is no valid explanation as to why SEE still remains a matter of life and death for students. Although there is no imagining an education system without grading as yet, the grading system can at least be systematically revamped so as to adapt to the changes in the world of information, communication and education. The anxiety that gripped the students, guardians, teachers and other stakeholders for months during these abnormal times should encourage us to question the significance of SEE and force a rethink of the educational evaluation system itself.