Uncertainty reigns over education sector with no signs of the pandemic ending soonNationwide grade 10 examinations had been scheduled to begin on Thursday but authorities don’t even know about the new assessment modality.
Had the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic not hit the country, the Secondary Education Examinations would have started from Thursday.
In order to compensate for the time lost to the pandemic because of lockdowns last year, the government in February had extended the ongoing academic session by two months and postponed the grade 10 examinations, usually held in March, to the end of May.
But with the second wave hitting the country, the government decided to postpone the SEE. Now it has no idea when and if the examinations will be held and if not with what kind of assessment students will be graded.
“The ministry is concerned about finding a suitable modality to conduct tests and wrap up the academic session without a further day,” said Hari Lamsal, a joint-secretary at the the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, at an interaction on Tuesday. “However, no decision has been taken on the matter yet.”
Some 517,000 students have registered for the Secondary Education Examinations this year.
Unlike the previous year, the government does not want to give the sole authority on students’ evaluation to respective schools arguing that they had inflated students’ grades last year. The number of students getting GPA 4 was several times higher than in previous years. While hardly 106 students had secured GPA 4 in 2019, the number increased to a whopping 9,319 last year after schools evaluated their students’ performance.
Experts question what other way is possible than to trust the teachers about their students.
“The government should trust teachers for assessment as they know their students best,” said Bidyanath Koirala, an education expert who is a professor at the Tribhuvan University. “As, generally speaking, examination questions are prepared by the teachers and they mark the answers, the government should leave it up to them to evaluate their students.”
Authorities have not offered any other option besides expressing their reluctance for internal evaluations even as there is no possibility of holding in-person examinations anytime soon without signs of the devastating second wave abating.
On Tuesday Nepal reported 8,387 new infections and 169 Covid-19 related fatalities. The total number of infections stands at 548,848 with 117,261 active cases. Daily cases have been hovering around the 8,000 mark and the positivity rate at more than 40 percent since the beginning of this month.
If vaccines are the way out, when Nepalis will get vaccinated is unclear. Further, existing vaccines have not by and large been tested on those below the age of 14. During the second wave of the pandemic in the country, school age students are getting infected in large numbers, according to the Ministry of Health and Population.
Meanwhile, students are anxious over the indecision of the government.
“The government should make students clear about its examination policy,” Sameer Dawadi, a grade 10 student from Mulpani, told the Post. “It should not keep students in the dark for longer.”
He is worried that he may have to lose a year due to the indecision of the government.
Not just the Secondary Education Examinations, the government is yet to make a decision about the grade 12 examinations. The grade 12 exams, scheduled to commence on June 6, too have been postponed until further notice affecting around 400,000 students.
The grade 12 examinations are usually held in April but last year in-person examinations were held in late November when the daily number of coronavirus cases was around 1,600 mark.
The delay in grade 12 tests led to the postponement of MBBS entrance examinations for students wishing to be doctors. They are yet to be held. Normally they are held in October or November.
The pandemic has also affected examinations in universities.
The final examinations of the second-year bachelor’s programme under the Tribhuvan University were postponed after the government enforced prohibitory orders starting on April 29.
The oldest varsity of the country is reluctant to shift examinations online. Last year it held in-person examinations although other universities held them online.
Tribhuvan University’s love for the traditional methods to conduct the tests has left around half a million students in a fix.
Suwekhsa Shrestha, 20, an undergraduate student in Social Work from Sindhupalchok, in one of them.
“We have no updates when the tests will be held,” she told the Post. “No one knows how long we have to wait for our tests and this is really frustrating,”
It is not only examinations that have been affected. Classes have been too. Most schools and colleges started in-person classes from October onwards last year but now for more than a month they have been disrupted.
The academic session was supposed to end in June but now it is unclear how school students will be promoted and opinions are divided.
Private school operators say the government should wait for the pandemic to be over and then hold the final examinations to wrap up the academic session.
“The ongoing academic session has already crossed 14 months. We shouldn’t wait any longer,” said Kumar Ghimire, general secretary of the Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation, Nepal. “The government should come up with a way out soon.”
However, teachers have a different take.
They say the current session must be extended till August as the students have hardly studied for three to four months so far.
“We should not promote students unless they have fulfilled the competency prescribed in the curriculum,” said Baburam Thapa, chairperson of Nepal Teachers’ Federation. “If we do, it will only weaken their academic performance in the long run.”
Last year, the nationwide lockdown had been imposed after the academic year had been completed but a day before the Secondary School Examinations were scheduled to begin.
While students in cities may have had online classes, those in rural areas have not had that option.
Different studies have found that around two thirds of school students were deprived of remote learning last year. While a large number of students from rural areas had access to learning through FM stations across the country, students have complained that they didn’t learn from them as they didn’t find it effective.
However, the government didn’t take the necessary steps to increase the internet connectivity and student’s access to online studies despite knowing that the pandemic would not be over anytime soon. Teachers have demanded the government allocate adequate funds to provide schools with internet connections.
Thapa, the chairperson of the teachers’ federation, said the upcoming national budget should be focused on easing teaching-learning activities in the long run as the pandemic is not going to go away soon.
“The government should allocate the budget to connect all the schools with the internet,” he said.
The caretaker government is all set to present the budget on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the student union close to the ruling CPN-UML on Sunday demanded the government provide internet even to the students from poorer sections of society. Presenting its demand to Minister for Education Krishna Gopal Shrestha, the All Nepal National Free Students Union drew the government’s attention to holding SEE and grade 12 examinations through alternative means.
According to experts, the ad-hocism of the policy makers and their reluctance to think beyond the traditional ways of teaching-learning and examinations is responsible for the uncertainty prevailing in the education sector.
“Learning doesn’t mean students should stick to textbooks,” said Koirala. “There are a number of learning opportunities for the students at home too. Teachers and students need to learn to adapt to the new normal. We must think outside the box.”
(Shuvam Dhungana contributed reporting.)