Secondary education: Should there be multiple boards?

The Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) seems to be busy in designing a new educational future for Nepal. Regionalisation of the SLC examination, school exit exam at the end of grade 12, making grades 1-8 primary education and 9-12 secondary education are among the agendas for educational reform. Similarly, phasing out of the Proficiency Certificate Level (PCL) by substituting it with higher secondary system has been another much-discussed agenda in the last 15 years.

But shouldn’t every measure be directed towards improving the quality of education in the country? The real issue is whether all school-level exams should be conducted by a single board. The National Curriculum Framework and the Three Year Interim Plan for Education recommended that the government have a National Board of Examination to conduct both the SLC and the + 2 examinations. Conducting SLC examinations at regional level and +2 exams at central level are not bad ideas in themselves. However, the recommended provisions do not provide much room for quality competition in the total education system.

The Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) has already started homework towards converting the existing higher secondary examination board into the proposed national examination board. Recently, the Minister for Education and Sports announced that the administration and examinations of grades 9-12 will be the responsibility of the HSEB. However, the MoES bureaucracy is against this idea. Whether it is the minister’s own version or recommendation drawn from research reports, the idea seems to be totally oriented towards centralising the examination system through one door policy.

That the ethics of examinations are not being followed is clear from leakage of question papers and open cheating. The root cause is the monopoly of single examination board over both SLC and +2 levels. In the name of reforming examination system, the recommended structure of National Examination Board will become another nuisance. This will make the Board more autocratic. At a time when the nation is moving towards restructuring the country into federal states, this ‘one-board’ idea makes no sense at all.

Ultimately, there will be as many exam boards as there will be the number of federal states in the new Nepal. Competitiveness is vital for quality education, which can only be ensured through introduction of multi-board concept in Nepal. The MoES should study the example of other countries in detail as well. Another pertinent issue is: Where do the children of foreign nationals study in Nepal? Is there any suitable school-level programme for them? Not all of them can join Lincoln School or Kendriya Vidyalaya! And it is also not possible to establish separate schools for foreign nationals of such diverse nationalities. This justifies the concept of multiple boards, which makes various school education programmes available within the national system of education. We can find several such examples in Asia, Europe and America.

The idea of converting PCL into +2 fails to consider that Nepal employs a multi-university concept, where universities other than TU also run PCL programmes. Do other universities close their PCL programmes simply on the request of MoES? Will it be prudent to ask universities to convert their PCL into +2, and be controlled by HSEB? Hence it is impractical to transform all university run PCL programmes into +2 system.

There is another important issue. The government seems to be thinking only about PCL and +2 examinations. Can it stop ‘A’ level and CBSE in Nepal? Moreover, Nepal joined WTO three years ago and as per WTO agreements, the member countries can establish only the institutions of higher education in Nepal. The school education (1-12) business is not within WTO agenda. So would it not be illegal to approve school-level programmes associated with foreign institutions? If the government cannot stop these ‘A’ level and CBSE programmes in Nepal, how can it think about abolishing PCL from its own national institutes?

Thus serious homework is essential before merging of SLC and +2 boards into a single examination board and abolishing PCL system from the country. A wise decision will be to provide room for multiple examination boards and make institutions compete freely. Although the quality of education provided by HSEB seems good, one cannot say this without looking at the flaws of examinations conducted by it.

On the one hand, the present structure of the HSEB cannot manage the proposed examination responsibilities and on the other, HSEB should not be allowed to create an empire in the school examination system. The MoES should start floating the idea among the key stakeholders before coming to any decision that may have a negative impact on the whole educational establishment of the country.

Dr Wagley is Dean, School of Education, KU