Taking the test

  • SLC exams need reform, but it will be a long, arduous process

Mar 19, 2015-The perennial ritual that is the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations have begun. Yesterday, 426,214 students sat for the Grade 10 exams that are supposed to assess their 10 years in school and propel them head-first into higher secondary education. For the first time, there are more girls appearing for the exam than boys-213,710, or 50.14 percent-which sounds commendable if one does not scrutinise the figure too closely. The Office of the Controller of Examinations (OCE) has also introduced measures to minimise errors on the part of the examiners, who are still, sadly, all too human. According to the OCE, over 63 percent of mistakes on the SLC exams were found to have been due to examiner oversights. Those checking answers sheets will now have to sign their name and enter scores onto a system on the OCE website for tallies and to correct any mistakes.

These are all appreciable measures and hopefully they will go some ways in improving the dismal SLC pass rates. Last year, only 43.92 percent of examinees—173,436 out of 394,933—passed. Even more shocking is the class divide—only 28.19 percent of students from public schools passed the SLC, compared to a whopping 93.26 percent from private schools. With attractive salaries for better teachers, private schools have figured out ways to game the system. Preparation for the SLC begins in earnest in Grade 9, when students are told explicitly what will be tested and what will not. Private school students are also likelier to attend extra tuition classes and have access to extra-curricular resources to help them pass. Meanwhile, public schools, despite a government injection of more than Rs 800 billion over the last decade, suffer from a host of problems—from no-show and grossly unqualified teachers and a lack of textbooks and infrastructure to economic factors that push students out of school and into work.

So while the SLC might have inherent problems of assessment, the larger issue lies with the state of our public schools. Political leaders, despite largely having graduated from public schools themselves, display a marked apathy towards their alma maters once in the Capital and able to afford private schools. Clearly, the issue is not with finances but the manner in which those funds are utilised. Monitoring in this regard is essential. Furthermore, it might also be prudent to begin reconsidering the SLC. The test acts as a standard, whether one attends public or private school, but it is also largely formulaic and tends to discourage creativity.  The SLC looms large in students’ minds, characterised as an impenetrable ‘iron gate’ that will determine their academics and professions so early in their lives. Reform of Nepal’s public schools and testing systems has now become inevitable, but there is no short-term quick fix. It will be a long and arduous process, but if steps are not taken towards that end, Nepal will continue to produce students woefully unprepared for a rapidly changing world.

Published: 20-03-2015 09:51

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