Education and publicityAdopting the new grading system without ensuring quality will have serious consequences
The letter grading system has finally been adopted as a means to evaluate students for the first time in the 82-year-old history of the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam, also known as the ‘iron gate’ for Nepali students. Out of all the recommendations made by the expert panel formed in 2004 to suggest measures to improve the SLC examination, the government has only implemented the letter grading system. Although this grading system is used globally as a scientific way of evaluation, in Nepal it created confusion among students and parents as it was adopted without preparations. Before adopting the system, the government should have implemented other recommendations made by the expert panel like upgrading the curriculum, text books, teaching methods, etc. Only then would the letter grading system have worked.
It seems the government introduced the new grading system mainly for publicity. The procedures for making questions and marking exam papers in the recent exams were the same as before, and the marks were simply converted into grades, which is not a universal practice. Out of the total of 615,553 students, including 159,417 from the exempted group, registered for the SLC this year, 481,986 are qualified for higher education as they have obtained grade C and above. The pass percentage this year—which is almost 80 percent—has doubled in comparison to last year’s results. It would be a suicidal move in the long term if the government implements the new grading system without ensuring quality. Cases like in Latin America where students completing high school could not even write their names cannot be ruled out if our government does not take measures to make the grading system more effective.
Only one step
The letter grading system is not without merit. It is a more scientific method of evaluation, under which students who are weak in certain subjects can pursue further studies in other subjects. Those failing the SLC used to commit suicide every year. In a country where only 13 percent of students enrolled in grade one make it to grade 10, the implementation of this system will help more students to pursue higher education in universities. The letter grading system will definitely help students find their potential and will open doors for them to pursue the subjects of their choice.
Adopting the letter grading system, however, is only one method among many that are needed to cure the malpractices in Nepal’s education system. Merely adopting it will not do much unless political parties show firm commitment to address the age-old systemic failures in education. National leaders should understand that unless public educational institutions, where political interference can be rife, do not improve, the country cannot move ahead in the path of development. Many students have gone abroad for further studies due to prolonged strikes, shutdowns and chaos in our public institutions. Colleges and universities should be free from the tendency of the political parties to exercise their clout. In Nepal, only 17 percent of college-going students pursue higher education. Basic education should be mandatory and free for all children, and at least 30 percent students should be enrolled in colleges if the government wants to foster sustainable development.
Class and gender
Another malpractice in Nepal’s educational sector is the mushrooming of private institutions. While they have contributed significantly to improve the quality of education, the benefits have come at the cost of equality. Privatisation of education has widened the difference between the rich and the poor. Mostly, the poor attend public schools while the rich attend private schools. This makes students aware of their economic class from a tender age, which is very unfortunate. Gender discrimination is rampant within many families; boys are often sent to private schools whereas girls are sent to public schools.
The recently promulgated constitution has explicitly made a provision for the government to provide free basic education. So when one is compelled to pay huge amounts to schools to educate one’s children, it is a violation of the constitution in a way. The recently-passed eighth amendment of the Education Act (1972) has rightly made the provision that new schools are to be run under the guthi system, which is similar to a board of trustees. It is clear that if educational institutions are run under a board of trustees, many of the ill practices in Nepal’s educational sector will disappear. A case in point is the Amrit Science Campus. It was a reputed institution under the board of trustees; however, after the government took control, one can easily notice its diminishing quality.
As education is a basic need of the people, it is unacceptable for it to be politicised and commercialised in this century. A key responsibility of the government is to provide free basic education to all its citizens. Inability to do so is not only a failure of the government but also of the country’s democratic norms and values.
Kainee is associated with Global Hope Network International