SEE results once again show effect of centralised education systemFederal authorities say local units lack competency to oversee school education as prescribed by the constitution, but experts argue that has to be tested first.
When the Secondary Education Exam results were out on Saturday, some questions were raised–that schools sent the grades for their students per their will and the National Examinations Board has been reduced to an agency whose job is just to rubber stamp the results sent from schools and publish them. Similar questions had been raised last year too. But one important point is missing in all this process–whether Nepal has been able to upgrade the education system in the changed context.
Experts say to effect a change in school education, local governments should be handed over the authority to manage schools, as laid down by the constitution. As per the constitution, local governments hold the authority to oversee school operations as well as to prepare the curriculum and conduct examinations.
Even more than five years after the promulgation of the constitution, secondary school education continues to function under the centralised system. And Secondary Education Examination is just an example.
Many say the whole idea of Secondary Education Exam, a new name given to the erstwhile School Leaving Certificate, conducted for Grade 10 students itself is flawed, as the education up to Grade 12 is considered secondary-level education.
Until 2015, 10th graders used to take the School Leaving Certificate exams, conducted nationwide by the Office of the Controller of Examinations. It was also dubbed the “iron gate”. It was considered the exit point of school education, but following the amendment to the Education Act in 2016 that included grades 11 and 12 as part of secondary education, grade 12 was considered the exit point.
Experts say the hangover of the School Leaving Certificate exam, however, continues even at present.
“This has led to an unhealthy competition among schools. They are unnecessarily inflating the marks, which does not help the students in the long run,” said Susan Acharya, a professor of Education at the Tribhuvan University. “Neither Nepal’s bureaucracy nor the political leadership is interested in reforming the school sector. That the authority has not yet been delegated to the local level is a clear example of a lack of attention to reforms in the education sector.”
Schedule 8 of the constitution gives local governments authority to manage school education and take necessary measures to manage school-level education within their jurisdictions. They are free to hire teachers, conduct tests and even develop curricula based on the national framework prepared by the Curriculum Development Centre.
After the pandemic began in the country last year, and the Secondary Education Examination was called off a day before it was supposed to start in March, the federal government decided to let the respective schools send the marks of their students to the National Examinations Board. Compared to previous years, the number of students scoring 4.0 Grade Point Average shot up in 2020 and 2021. Of the total examinees last year 1.9 percent and this year 1.7 percent scored 4.0 GPA. In contrast, in 2019 when students took the nationwide examination, 0.o2 percent had scored a 4.0 GPA.
There are allegations that schools, mostly the private ones, sent inflated marks to the National Examinations Board, whose role has, for the last two years, been reduced to issuing students’ mark sheets rather than conducting the examinations.
Experts say the National Examinations Board is to blame for creating an environment for schools to send inflated marks without conducting proper assessments of students.
The federal government has been reluctant to implement the constitutional provisions of delegating authority to the local level to manage school education.
Repeated directives from parliamentary committees too have been ignored.
The Parliamentary Committee on Education last year and even this year asked the government to delegate authority to local governments to conduct Grade 10 final exams.
The federal government, however, has been saying that the Education Act 1971 allows just regional authorities, not the local governments, to conduct exams. The eighth amendment to the Act in 2016 says the Secondary Education Examination would be held at the regional level.
The provinces have replaced the regions after the promulgation of the new constitution.
Education experts say the authorities are citing an act that was promulgated during the pre-1990 Panchayat era. According to them, a Federal Education Act is a must for the implementation of the constitutional provisions. The Education Ministry, however, is yet to finalise its draft.
“The bill on the education act hasn’t been prepared because it will take the federal government’s authority to the provincial and local levels,” said Dhananjaya Sharma, a former principal at Gyanodaya School, Bafal. “There is a mala-fide intention behind the delay.”
Sharma says school education in Nepal needs an overhaul–from management to learning environment to evaluation process.
While bureaucrats and politicians at the federal level say the local governments aren’t competent to take charge of school education, local governments must get the responsibility so that their competency can be tested, according to Sharma.
Sharma also finds fault in the present letter grading system–the GPA and letter grading the students are given accordingly.
Currently, the marks obtained by students in three-hour tests are converted into grades.
“The yearlong performance of a student should be the basis for giving them grades,” said Sharma. “You cannot adopt the grading system when the basis of evaluating students’ overall performance round the year is measured in a three-hour test.”
The government adopted the letter grading system in 2016, arguing that students’ performance was dwindling over the years and they were securing “less” marks.
But experts say just by changing the system of marking without working to step up efforts to improve the quality of school education cannot bring about the desired change.
Basudev Kafle, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Tribhuvan University, said it is surprising that the examinations board is happy to issue certificates based on marks sent by respective schools rather than abiding by the constitutional authority to make the local governments responsible.
“The federal government must immediately bring the Federal Education Act,” he said, “and delegate authority to local and provincial governments to manage school education.”