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‘Cambridge prioritises quality over numbers of students’

Apr 22, 2016-

Over four dozen students, including five world toppers, were awarded on Thursday for their excellent performance in Cambridge A and AS Level. The British Council in Nepal has been conducting Cambridge International Examinations and supporting the schools with teacher training and maintaining quality education. In this backdrop, The Post on Wednesday caught up with Michael O’ Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer, Cambridge International Examinations and Jovan Ilic, Country Director, British Council Nepal to talk about the different facets of A Level education in Nepal. Excerpts:

How do you evaluate the performance of Nepali students in Cambridge A Level and AS Level?

Michael: A Level is a qualification that not just tests the knowledge of students but also their ability to apply that knowledge, to think independently, to solve the problems and analyse given evidence. The students in Nepal have been doing well in the examinations for a long time. Indeed, five students among 48 learners awarded today were world toppers. This is fantastic not just for the students, their parents and teachers but also for the country.

Jovan: First I would like to congratulate Nepali students for their outstanding performance. The presentation by the two world toppers today was amazing and that’s what A Level is all about. To make such a brilliant presentation at the age of 18 in front of the Vice-President and other high level delegates is quite extraordinary. The level of confidence, creativity and knowledge is the output of rigorous curriculum the Cambridge is providing. There are world toppers from Nepal which shows how brilliant Nepalese students are.

What sets A Level apart from other international degrees?

Michael: Cambridge is the only international exam board wholly owned by a world famous research university. So we are very much true to the spirit and principles of the University of Cambridge, and not for profit ethos which is quite evident. Second, we provide an extremely wide choice of subjects in A Level. We believe students should not be forced to study, rather they should be given the choices of what they want to study. In the age between 16-18 years it is very important that students study what they are passionate about. That is necessary for one to succeed in life. And, third, the way we design the curriculum, in a way that it recognises and rewards the real learning and the ability to think not just knowing the subject, makes us apart. 

Jovan: Quality is what the Cambridge has always prioritised. The university is constantly improving the text, constant research mechanism is in place to make sure the curriculum prepares students to compete globally. The Cambridge International Examinations are also designed accordingly. 

You said there is constant revision in the curriculum. Do you also prioritise the local content from the particular countries?

Michael: We are always willing to incorporate local content. We have introduced Nepal Studies in the AS Level. Of course students benefit from studying international subjects but we cannot just educate our children to be global citizens. They also have to be citizens of their own country. So we prioritise blending international elements with local components. 

The numbers of A Levels schools are increasing every year in Nepal. What is your criteria to grant affiliation to them?

Jovan: Starting this year, they numbers are actually going to decrease. As per the Nepal government regulations, we cannot affiliate new schools without its permission. But if you actually look at some schools, you will see that they already have Cambridge affiliation. We are looking at providing support to schools so that they can improve. But, we don’t want schools that are just using our logo. So the number of A Levels schools are going down so that we can focus on quality. 

Michael: We are not much concerned about the numbers. We want our students to get quality education as per the spirit of University of Cambridge. Today we saw five world toppers and other outstanding achievers however, we are also committed to help the students at the middle and lower end. Professional teaching and learning is what matters us, not the number. 

What kind of support do you provide the schools and teachers to maintain the quality you were talking about?

Jovan: We have subject specific teachers training courses for the teachers, we train them with pedagogy and other teaching methodology. 

Michael: Every year Cambridge trains about 15,000 teachers around the world with a sizeable number from Nepal as well. We provide them with an ability to be competitive teachers by helping them understand how to teach students better. A good teacher is a teacher who focuses on the learning of the students not just from the teaching plan. 

It’s a matter of pride that we have world toppers every year. But there is a trend that the toppers tend to go abroad and stay there. What do you think should be done to use the brain here?

Michael: First, it is wrong to think that Nepali students only go abroad for higher studies. Students also go abroad in other cases. What we do is for the educational benefit of the schools and society as a whole and not just of the students. I believe it is a very good opportunity for the students in Nepal to show what they are capable of and motivate others. We are more than happy to share our idea about education 

with those responsible for national education. 

Many years back I was with British Council in China. I remember how the Chinese government in the 1980’s were anxious about students going abroad and not returning. But nevertheless when the situation of the country gradually improved they gradually started to coming back as it provided them opportunity. I think China has benefited from the human capital.  There are lots of such examples in the various countries of the world.

Jovan: We providing world class education such as A levels and Nepali students are performing well. Because students get good opportunity abroad, they go to pursue higher study. They get opportunity to learn from colleagues across the globe and when they return they use that for the betterment of their homeland. That is also an opportunity for Nepal to get those who come back with skills and knowledge. 

There is a general perception here in Nepal that only a certain section of the society can afford A Level education. So do you have any plan in place to support the marginalised section of the society?

Michael: There are some countries where Cambridge A Level is used in the state education system. A Level is taken in state schools in Mauritius, Singapore and in other countries. Then there are many countries where we work with state government helping them in curriculum and teaching. In Nepal we are very much open to sharing our ideas and expertise anywhere we can. 

Jovan: Currently British Council has six to eight projects with Nepal government. It been 56-57 years that we have been working with the partnership of Nepal government. We are working on a plan to revise SLC exam and there are also teacher training plans in place. We are always ready to move forward together in enhancing the quality of education.

Published: 22-04-2016 09:23

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