Question still there

The education ministry has halved the exam load of SLC students as they will, beginning this year, be asked questions from Grade 10 textbooks only, thus ending the decades-old practice of conducting combination exams for both Grades 9 and 10. This will help bring the SLC exams into some harmony with the practice prevailing at higher levels — testing the students only on the syllabus they have covered in a given year. At college or university, the combination exams were dropped some 30 years ago. The government’s decision follows a recommendation of “Study on Student Performance in SLC”, a joint report of the education ministry and the Education Sector Advisory Team. According to Dr Mangal Siddhi Manandhar, the minister for Education and Sports, the new system will boost the pass percentage of the students, besides discouraging rote-learning and promoting creativity.

Indeed, there has been a strong case for the new decision. But if a major justification for the change is that the two-year cumulative testing approach no longer exists at higher levels, then the question may also arise who will conduct the exam for Grade 9 — the school management, the district education office or the SLC board? At college, it is the university throughout. The fact that both the report and the ministry evidently aim at boosting the SLC pass percentage, which almost invariably ranges from the 20s to the 30s, it would be a good idea to space out two consecutive exam days sufficiently, as is done at college, to give the strained students minimum time to recapitulate the whole syllabus.

According to Kedar Bhakta Mathema, leader of the study team, if all the suggestions made in the report were carried out, the pass percentage would go up. It is all very well to try to increase the pass percentage. This would particularly help the government schools, meaning less privileged students, whose overall SLC results have been far from satisfactory. The private schools, with a high rate of performance, will do even better. But without improving the quality of instruction in the government schools, mere attempts to boost the pass percentage through devices such as this would not make the Nepali students any abler and more competitive than before. The ministry would therefore do well to think seriously about the other side of the equation. If the experience of TU is any guide, a mere switchover to the new system would hardly give any impetus to creativity, without further measures. The present change would probably make it necessary for the Curriculum Development Centre to redesign the syllabuses for Grades 9 and 10, as they had been prepared only with the two-year cumulative exams in view. Time has also come for the ministry to consider dropping the Sent-up Test system. More importantly, under cover of this requirement, unhealthy practices have proliferated. Many private schools promote even weak students up to Grade 10 and then they hold them up at the Test. Maximum commercial benefit and overall percentage are what they are interested in.