Alternative testing

  • Providing those lacking in intellectual ability with practical skills and training can be a sensible solution
- Jagannath Adhikari
Alternative testing

Jun 18, 2014-

Every year, about this time, the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) results bring pessimism and frustration to many parents and students. Only a few may feel happy after the result but a majority certainly feels frustrated, as there is a high proportion of failure. Many students consider the SLC examination to be a matter of life and death. We all know that it should not be so but somehow this message has not reached the minds of these young people.  

Pass or fail

I was the first generation in my family to have passed the SLC and so were many of my school friends. The SLC pass rate was much lower then—about three and half decades ago—than the present case. While I passed the SLC exam, many of my friends who failed this examination a couple of times gave up studying and started in professions like farming and business that did not require formal academic certificates. Their lives were certainly harder than those who had good academic qualifications, which often resulted in a good income, but they also seem to be running a rich and fulfilling life. In many of the cases, these SLC failures contributed more productively to society than those of us who had passed the examination.

The high failure rate in the SLC is an indication that there is something wrong with our school education as well as the way the examination is conducted. Students are made to think that this examination is an ‘iron gate’ to a brighter future. Society, family and school environments are primarily responsible for this wrong impression, which has created a lot of pressure on these young people. As a result, they cannot think of other ways to further their careers and livelihoods.

There is a problem in the way the SLC examination is conducted. The SLC should be a test of basic literacy and numeracy and an evaluation of what students have learnt at school, home and society. But rather, it is taken as a test of intellectual ability and knowledge imposed from outside. Accordingly, a student who has gained a good knowledge of the farming system and of village society and culture by working on his farm and interacting with the people in his community will never have a chance on the SLC to get his kind of knowledge tested. This makes many students from rural areas unable to pass the SLC despite having good life skills.

An alternative path

There is no point in stopping a large number of students at the SLC. Students lacking in intellectual ability or academic interest should also be able to pass SLC exams but they should be directed to practical fields so that they can use their time productively. Otherwise, the SLC will produce many failures leading to a huge wastage of resources and frustration for young people and their parents. This year, some 375,000 students failed the SLC examination. Considering what was reported by the Ministry of Educ-ation that, on average, the government spe-nds Rs 7,000 on a student in the public sch-ool system, this failure equals to a waste of some Rs 2.6 billion of public money a year.  

Reflecting on what I would have done if I had been unable to pass the SLC, it is more or less certain that I would have moved into farming or small trade and enterprises—the way my friends who did not pass the SLC are now doing. There is nothing wrong in these professions, even though education does open up avenues for various careers and professions. The reason why many of us do not want to go into careers other than those that require higher education is that we attach a different status to each profession. This status anxiety has lead young students and their parents to think that one has to pass the SLC, if possible with high marks, by hook or by crook.

Things may have changed slightly with the opening of employment opportunities for those who failed the SLC to work in the non-skilled sector in foreign countries like Malaysia and the Gulf. I have seen male students in rural areas not taking their studies seriously as they know that there are still opportunities to work in foreign countries and make money. This may indicate a wrong trend, but at the same time, it shows that young people still prefer non-farm employment, and they consider the SLC a way to move to higher education, which they think, will lead to better employment. Therefore, the crux of the problem seems to be the SLC’s link to employment. This link needs to be broken if the undue importance on SLC is to be reduced. Imparting practical skills and employment to students who are not good at academics can be an alternative pathway. This could also reduce the desperation to pass the SLC.

Killing creativity

Today’s children have more stress than in the past. Then, students in the villages did not have much mental stress, even though they had to perform physical work at home. In a way, students were not particularly under pressure to show better results and parents did not have much expectation from their children’s education. As a result, students did not have a ‘do-or-die’ attitude towards their SLC results. Now, parents want their children to not only pass the SLC examination but to pass it with ‘distinction’. To get this result, students are sent to school from dawn to dusk, asked to prepare for the SLC examination and concentrate only on areas from where questions are asked on the tests. This has killed the creativity of students.

The thinking about the SLC examination and the way it is conducted—with an aim to fail more students—must change. More students need to pass the examination but those without intellectual or academic interest must be given options in practical or other non-academic skills. This way, it is possible to allow young people to be more productive.

Adhikari is a social scientist researching various aspects of development

Published: 19-06-2014 08:49

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