Stakeholders want decision on grade 10 examination as time for registration arrivesThey do not want a repeat of the arrangement made for last academic year and are also concerned about the extent of learning achievement across the grades.
Deependra Neupane, father of the fifth grader Shreedesh at a school in Bhaktapur, is worried about his son’s learning through online medium, which he has been participating in for the last five months. Shreedesh has four classes a day compared to six to seven that he had during in-person instruction.
“What concerns me the most is whether he achieves optimum learning before he graduates to the next grade,” Neupane told the Post. “I would prefer postponement of the academic session by a few months rather than see him prompted to the next grade without learning what his syllabus requires.”
Madhu Khanal of Panchkhal, Kavrepalanchok has reason to be even more worried. Her daughter Nabina, a grade 10 student, has been attending classes for just a month now but the government plans to hold the Secondary Education Examination, or SEE, in March-April.
“Her performance in the SEE will definitely not be good if the government conducts the tests in Chaitra [March-April],” she told the Post. “I expect the tests to be conducted once the courses are over.”
Only city centric schools have been able to conduct online classes effectively while those like her daughters have been left out, studies have shown.
“The government should adopt a policy keeping in mind the reality across the country,” said Khanal.
The government in September reduced the curriculum at the school level by a third to wrap up the current academic session by March-April. The shortening of the curricula, the government claimed, would make up for the loss of working days schools suffered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than two months since, it is clear that even the reduced courses will not be completed as schools have not been able to run the classes as expected.
According to Ritu Raj Sapkota, chairperson of the National Private and Boarding Schools’ Association-Nepal, across the country teaching-learning has just begun with the presence of students at schools.
He said other than some resourceful and well established private and public schools, others are in no position to conclude the academic session in the next four months.
Different studies have shown virtual learning is ineffective for two thirds of school students. A study in November conducted by the National Campaign for Education, an umbrella body of over 300 organisations working in the education sector, found that virtual learning was ineffective for 64.3 percent of the students surveyed.
A survey carried out by UNICEF Nepal in August also showed that more than two thirds of the schoolchildren in Nepal are deprived of the distance learning opportunities.
Around 7 million students are enrolled in 36,000 schools across the country. Around 80 percent of them study in some 29,000 public schools.
“In reality, the study has only begun now,” said Sapkota. “Schools need at least six to seven months to ensure that the students have a minimum learning achievement prescribed by the curriculum.”
The federal government, meanwhile, is more concerned about the SEE.
“A majority of the stakeholders have suggested postponing the SEE by a couple of months as Covid-19 has affected study,” said Gopinath Mainali, secretary at the Ministry of Education.
School examinations for other grades are held right before the SEE tests and any change in the timetable would affect the entire academic calendar of schools.
The Curriculum Adjustment Framework prepared by the Curriculum Development Centre in September has reduced the school curricula by 30 percent, adjusted the learning hours for grades 1 to 3 students to 69o and for 4 to 10 students to 848 hours. As per government rules, at least 1,024 class hours need to be conducted in 190 days of an academic year under normal circumstances.
But by the government’s own admission, the teaching learning process has not been uniform across the country because of the pandemic.
“Teaching learning has been comparatively better in the hills where the effect of the coronavirus was comparatively less than the Tarai-Madhes and city areas,” Mainali said.
The federal government has directed local governments to conduct classes depending on the situation on the ground.
“Respective schools and the local governments have every authority to decide on conducting teaching learning activities,” said Mainali. “It has gone well in the places where schools and local governments are effective. But the situation is pessimistic where they are not effective.”
Experts however, put the blame on the federal government for the mess in the school education sector.
“The present mess in the education sector shows that the ministry completely lacks a vision to manage the current crisis,” Binaya Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University, told the Post.
The confusion has also arisen for want of legal clarity.
Since Schedule 8 of the Constitution of Nepal gives the entire responsibility to manage the school level education to local governments, they have been seeking authority to hold the SEE tests, according to Bhim Prasad Dhungana, general secretary of the Municipal Association Nepal.
But the eighth amendment to the Education Act, which was made in June 2016 after the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, says the SEE would be held at the regional level.
Compared to the five development regions created as administrative units during the Panchayat era, there are now provinces in the present federal dispensation.
Provincial governments, therefore, have been demanding authority to hold SEE examinations based on the Act. At present, they only have the authority to print the answer sheets needed for the students in their provinces.
“The existing law authorises provincial governments to manage the tests. The federal government, however, is reluctant to delegate the authority despite our repeated requests,” Nawal Kishore Sah, minister for Social Development in Province 2, told the Post. “We can do nothing but make demands.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has started consultations after the National Examination Board called for the government’s decision as time has come to register students for the SEE to be held in 2021.
According to Jung Bahadur Aryal, spokesperson for the board, they have requested the government for a decision on the matter. “We are late to start the registration process,” he told the Post.
In the last academic year, the examination to be held from March 19 was postponed a day before it was scheduled to start, when there was just one case of Covid-19 in the country.
With no sign of the pandemic abating, the Cabinet on June 10 decided to cancel the test for the year and certify students’ grades based on the internal evaluations of schools.
The board subsequently issued the certificates to 482,219 students based on the marks provided by the respective schools.
But it is not in favour of repeating that arrangement this year following discussions with stakeholders.
The overwhelming number of stakeholders have suggested not authorising the tests conducted by the schools, said Durga Aryal, member secretary at the National Examination Board. “There were questions over the authenticity of the results last year.”
The number of students getting GPA 4 was several times higher than in previous years as schools got the authority to mark their wards. While hardly 106 students had secured GPA 4 in 2019, the number increased to 9,319 this year after schools got to evaluate their students.
Aryal, the member secretary, said the SEE results were inflated because schools misused their authority.
“We definitely don’t want this to repeat,” he said. “The SEE won’t be left to the schools now.”
He said some of the schools have inflated the results to the extent that even students are ashamed to show them.
But if in-person exams are to be held, the when and how of that needs to be decided soon, according to the board.
“It will now be challenging to hold the examinations in March-April for two reasons,” said Aryal, the spokesman. “First, examination preparation has been delayed; second, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the study.”
But it is not just the SEE that experts are concerned about but also promotions in the lower grades given that teaching learning activities have not been effective.
Promoting students without ensuring their minimum learning achievement, a concern fifth grader Shreedesh’s father raised, could have a multiplier effect in the long run, they say.
“Students with a weak base won’t be able to perform better in the higher grades,” said Kusiyait of Tribhuvan University. “They won’t have the ability to comprehend topics mainly in subjects like Mathematics and Science which could ultimately lead to higher dropout rates.”
The decision on SEE, which the federal government needs to make soon, would need to be a careful one as it affects the academic calendar of schools.
“Postponement of the final tests for grade 10 means postponement of the academic year,” said Mainali, the secretary at the ministry. “It is therefore necessary to take an informed decision.”
But going by the decisions the government has made so far, there is little room for optimism on a sound decision, according to observers.
“It has been making every decision on an ad hoc basis so far,” said Kusiyait.