Continued indecision over grade 12 examinations worries students and collegesMeanwhile, experts and school operators are against nation-wide decision on schools as Covid-19 threat is not uniform as ‘unrecognised’ virtual classes restart.
In normal times Sanskar Pandit, 18, would have been waiting for his grade 12 results now. The high school examinations would have been held in April and the results out in the first week of August. But it’s an uncertain time for Pandit and around half a million others who were preparing for grade 12 examinations when the lockdown was announced in March.
“I am worried I might have to lose one year,” said Pandit.
While the government is preparing to publish the results of Secondary Education Examination (SEE) based on the candidates’ assessment by their own schools, and doing initial work on the grade 11 results, no decision has been made on grade 12.
Chandra Mani Poudel, chairperson at the examination board, said he was not in a position to tell about the grade 12 examinations.
“As of now we plan to hold the board exams for grade 12. However, this might change if the government decides otherwise,” he told the Post. The government decided to lift the lockdown with restrictions starting Wednesday but the board has no schedule or concrete plan on how the examinations will be held.
On June 10, almost three months after the Cabinet decided to postpone the SEE, the government decided to cancel the examination and subsequently the Ministry of Education authorised respective schools to send the grades of their students based on their internal evaluation. The schools have sent them to the board but it could still be a month before certificates are issued to the 482,219 students whose grades their schools sent.
As for grade 11, the board on Tuesday endorsed a working procedure, allowing respective schools to evaluate their students. As in the case of SEE, the board will just validate the internal evaluations made by the schools.
But grade 12 grades are much more important than those of grades 10 and 11. With the letter grade system introduced for SEE in 2015, it has been easier for students to choose the subjects they want to study in grades 11 and 12, the grade 12 final grades are important for what students take up in college. Subjects in high demand like medicine and engineering have a certain threshold of grades to pursue.
Subham Shrestha, a twelfth grader planning to studying engineering, said, “If the government allows the schools to send the marks based on the internal exams, it will negatively affect the performance of the students like me, who have secured average marks in their internal exams but who are working hard to secure better grades in the board examinations.”
“Whether I will be able to take up engineering would depend on my final results because one has to secure at least ‘C’ grade in aggregate in 11 and 12. I am scared that the teachers could be biased towards the students who performed poorly in their internal tests,” he said.
It is not only about individual students. The uncertainty will affect the whole tertiary education. Government and university officials as well as college administrators say the delay in grade 12 examinations will have a ripple effect in the academic calendar in the university education at all levels.
Devraj Adhikari, member-secretary at the University Grants Commission, said although the academic calendar would not suffer too much if the examination board conducts and publishes grade 12 results by November, but he concedes there is little chance of this.
College administrators agree with Adhikari. They say adjusting a few months will not be a problem; however, if the grade 12 results are pushed beyond November, it would pose a challenge.
Lok Bhandari, general secretary of Higher Institutions and Secondary Schools Association, said the government should validate the internal evaluations for grade 12 as it has done for grades 10 and 11.
“We suggest not affecting the academic calendar in the name of holding nationwide board examinations,” he told the Post. “The entire calendar for tertiary education will be affected if the government fails to take a prompt and right decision about grade 12.”
Meanwhile, universities and colleges have more to worry about than the grade 12 results.
Universities are wondering how they will be able to hold examinations for tens of thousands of students during the pandemic, especially for students studying management and humanities given their numbers.
Dr Dharma Kant Banskota, vice-chancellor at Tribhuvan University (colleges affiliated to it have 90 percent of the student population), said he is hoping for the threat of the Covid-19 to subside so that it can hold the examinations.
“There are plans in place to start the exams from next month. We aren’t worried for the streams that have smaller enrolment [like engineering and medicine]. The challenge is in the case of streams with a large number of students,” he said.
The final year students from the bachelor’s level have been waiting for more than three months for their examinations. In normal times they were held in April.
Krishna Prasad Wagley, a final year bachelor’s student at Jaya Multiple Campus, affiliated with the Tribhuvan University, said the delay in the holding of exams for months has affected him in many ways. “The university has to give some way out. It either can validate the internal evaluations or conduct the tests in different shifts. If not, it at least can assure I will not have to lose one year to join the master’s degree,” he told the Post.
For schools with about seven million students it is a different challenge. The Cabinet on Tuesday said the schools can start the admission process from August 18 but it did not say when the classes could be allowed to begin.
Because parents of children are especially concerned, the school-going age population is much larger and the private school lobby is stronger, there have been efforts at having virtual classes through radio, television and the internet. But that had come to a standstill as the government remained undecided over charging tuition fees.
Following a dialogue with guardian associations on Wednesday, schools resumed the virtual classes on Thursday. But the government did not have a role in any agreement they reached.
While virtual classes at the moment seem the only alternative, the Ministry of Education hasn’t recognised virtual learning as formal schooling. It says conducting teaching-learning activities through the virtual medium is just a means to engage the students in the learning process.
Guardians too are concerned about the learning in virtual classes. “My son’s school hardly runs class for a couple of hours a day and I doubt that can cover his course of study,” Deependra Neupane, father to a sixth grader from a school in Lokanthali, told the Post. “It seems the online classes are just the medium for private schools to demand fees from the parents.”
Despite the existing threat of Covid-19, Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation Nepal (PABSON) and National Private and Boarding Schools’ Association (NPABSAN), two lobby groups of private schools, want flexibility regarding the decision on running the classes with the physical presence of students where possible.
“The ban is lifted on every other sector but education. Why should only we face this restriction?” asked Ritu Raj Sapkota, NPABSAN chairperson. He says rather than the federal government, local governments should be deciding on the reopening of schools after assessing the possible threat of Covid-19 in particular areas.
Education experts have a similar view. They say since the local governments best know about their challenges, they can make more informed decisions than the federal government. The Constitution of Nepal grants the local governments explicit authority to manage school education.
Professor Binay Kusiyait, a researcher on educational issues, said there might not be the same level of threat in Birgunj Metropolitan City and Suryabinayak Municipality, for instance. “The government report shows five districts don’t have a single active case. Why are they not given the authority to decide on the resumption of schools on their own?” he said.
The Education Ministry, meanwhile, is still clueless on the modality of reopening schools. Deepak Sharma, spokesperson for the ministry, said it is still unsafe to start instruction with the physical presence of the students. “We have decided to allow admission from next month but we still need to be cautious about starting schools and colleges,” he told the Post.
Shuvam Dhungana contributed reporting.