Ditch it: SLC Exams

July 1, 2014

central ideaShyam Sharma

I now teach at a prestigious university within the largest and one of the best American public university systems, the State University of New York.

But twenty-four years ago, when I first appeared the SLC, I failed.

Now, I am not about to tell you a wonderful story. Sorry, there are more stories of suicide than of success in this regard. I am instead telling my story, for the first time beyond my family, in order to make a very broad point about the SLC exam and our society.

The precise reason I failed the exam was that I went to a public school in ninth and tenth grades. I passed the exam after I went to a private school for a year and retook it. Again, before any advocates of private schools start licking their lips, let me make something very clear. In the big picture of education system where I failed—even though it was in the Indian state of Manipur where there was a similar testing system as in Nepal—the private school that helped me pass the exam was NOT a solution of a problem. The emerging phenomenon of private schools was, or it was becoming as it also is in Nepal, a manifestation of an insidious social crisis. Let me explain.

When I failed, it was the system that failed me and my peers in the public school. On the surface, the rate of failure in private schools shows that the SLC crisis would disappear if we had more private schools. Unfortunately, if you’re thinking about the big picture of “education for all,” it isn’t as simple as peeing one’s leg for instant warmth. The society has a propensity to be more complex than, say, one’s family.

Roughly 44 percent students passed SLC this year; but if we consider the filtration by the sent up test, failed students from previous years, and those not allowed to take the exam (mostly from public schools), the net proportion of first passes is probably one in four!

Even more shocking than just the numbers, however, is that if you tell ten people that you’re upset about this situation, you’re likely to have six say that the problem lies with poor teaching (or somehow blame the victims); three others might tell you to be more optimistic (have you seen the goodie goodie Facebook post with fake Abdul Kalaam quotations?); and the remaining person will tell you about his nephew’s 90 percent in optional math. We’ve somehow become a society of leg-peeing spectators of a stupidly designed and run system that sacrifices most of our children’s prospects for higher education and greater dignity year after year after year.

We don’t need the SLC. It is obsolete, misguided, and if you think about its purpose and effect, absurd. We have the 10+2 as the end of school, as well as other district-level assessments at lower levels. If we really need a national “standard,” then it doesn’t have to be so misaligned with the rest of education system that it makes most students fail.
The system is absurd because it is based on the uneducated assumption that the ONLY way to “certify” secondary school education is to design and execute ONE national test for all students. To those who think that only a singular standard makes it “fair,” let me ask this: How about designing a standard based on the reality of the majority? Or, how about requiring all students to learn and take exams on how to prevent and treat DegNala disease in buffalos, write the tamasuk, sing deuda and conduct sociological research among Tharu communities?

Those who run this absurd system from the center believe that IF they don’t “unify” and monitor from the center, based increasingly on the standards of “good” private schools, teachers and schools and school districts across the country will simply stop teaching and “eat”public money for nothing. It doesn’t occur to these smarty-pants that in reality, if teachers could stop teaching for that one big, centralized test and start really teaching and assessing in their own local terms, they could educate students better (and we wouldn’t  have “nil” results in entire regions).

They can’t give teachers autonomy and dignity, understand variation and complexity, look at the situation from the perspective of failed students who were tested on what they weren’t taught, see that they didn’t have the opportunity and privilege to meet the standard. They cannot see how the idea that only a centralized testing system will make teachers teach, students learn, schools “perform” has a very high social, financial, and moral cost.

Should we not instead, you might ask, fix teaching and learning so that more students will pass the SLC? No, actually. Students from vastly different backgrounds, material and social conditions, learning opportunities and privileges can and must never be tested by using a one-size-fits-all test made in the capital. The society will NEVER be able to achieve the pipe dream of creating equal teaching/learning conditions for the rich and poor, for cities and villages, for differently abled students, for students with different talents. For many, many reasons, students will perform differently in tests; but they should all be allowed to pursue higher education in different ways. The idea that everyone needs math to go to college is bogus, and so is the idea that advanced scientific knowledge is only available in English.

What about “accountability”? Isn’t it because public school teachers are not responsible toward the principal who can fire them and parents who will take students out? Maybe. But until we take into account the entire picture with the differences and complexities mentioned above, we will solve the wrong problems, if any. Reality matters. Students in Karnali should be judged in terms of the best they can do there, using the best from their teachers there.

Am I saying that every student who takes the SLC exam should be given a “certificate”? No. But everyone deserves fair and flexible ways to continue. Fairness and justice means that those who don’t get equal opportunity, those who need alternative and flexible ways to keep moving ahead in life should also be given the basic right to continuing education (instead of wholesale regional inequalities across the country).

In the end, it all comes down to trust. So, let me end with an anecdote. Some time ago, a bachelor’s first year class I was teaching started becoming rather unengaged. So, one day, I went to class and said that I wanted to give everyone full credit. One student raised her hand: “Please stop joking. Let’s get to work.” Imagine a teacher, school, and district- based system that is built on trust! If those who think that only Kathmandu can ensure quality in education were to trust other stakeholders, a sensible set of alternatives would begin to emerge.

Until then, the SLC is likely to be the unfair, unjust, and irrational system that it is—an immoral system where children across the country are made to run a mad race against those who go to school in fancy school buses in Kathmandu.

The article was published in Republica on June 21, 2014.

The author is an assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University (State University of New York). He blogs at http://www.shyamsharma.net. He can be reached at ghanashyam.sharma@stonybrook.edu

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Reflections on TSC written test

July 1, 2014

Praveen Kumar Yadav

After a gap of nearly 17 years, recently Teacher Service Commission (TSC), the government body to appoint teachers for community schools, has recruited teachers for Secondary, Lower Secondary and Primary levels across the country. The process consisted of both written and oral examinations. For written examinations, a total of a total of 413,000 examinees across the country had appeared. Based on results of the written examinations, those successful candidates were called for the interview.

NeltaChoutari would like to congratulate all those who succeeded in TSC exams and have recently become teachers in government owned community schools.  

Out of those successful teachers, the three have shared their experience and reflections through this blog entry. They have been  appointed by the government to teach English in secondary levels. Specifically, they have presented their reflections under three different sections included in the written test.

Kishor Parajuli:

I have been teaching aspects of ELT theoretically to students pursuing higher studies on the one hand, and at the same time, I have been implementing those theories while teaching English at secondary level.

As you see all the questions included in this section are basically related to pedagogy. While answering them, I have integrated my experiences of teaching students English theoretically as well as practically.

Even facilitating and attending in different professional development activities, especially conducted by NELTA in Kathmandu, Makwanpur and other branches have provided me enough exposure to answer these questions comprehensively.

Upendra Kafle:

Teaching means creating environment where our students can learn many things. While creating such an environment, we apply many theories, methods and techniques. When applied, some of them become effective while others turn out to be ineffective. Hence, based on the best of classroom teaching practices, I have answered the questions from this section.  Besides, my answers have reflected on my own experience of teaching different aspects, including teaching grammar, use of teaching materials, language games, teaching poetry and writing exercise.

Abadhes Ray:

Apart from my knowledge and experience with ELT, I, as a regular reader, must give credit to Choutari for enabling me to answer these questions. I recalled different blog entries that I have read here on the blog while answering those question. For instance, some of the articles I found useful for me to answer the questions of this section include the blog post.

Not only this, I did two online courses from Oregon University and Maryland University, which were very effective for learning. Training and access program have also enhanced me to effectively write answers.

Kishor Parajuli:

This section includes problem solving questions. While answering such questions, I reflected on my own experience of facing challenges and problems teaching English to secondary schools. Some of key pertinent problems I mentioned in the test include English teachers’ reluctance in adopting changes in teaching practice, methods and techniques, traditional translation method that still exists in schools, lack of reflection about their teaching and how the learners can learn better, lack of evaluation and follow up of trainings, and  application of action research. For such problems, there’s the only solution, i.e. comprehensive engagement of English teachers in various modes of professional development. A teacher should not only teach, but they should also play a series of roles—of a facilitator, a problem solver, a trainer, an instructor, a guide, a leader and many more.

To cater the needs of individual learners from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the teacher should apply an appropriate method and practice based on action research. Besides, they can organize group discussions, focus group discussions, and role plays for their active and meaning participation in the classroom, by adopting learner centered teaching methods.

Upendra Kafle:

Over a decade of my involvement in English language teaching, I have come across several problems, and I have also solved them properly by adopting practical measures. Firstly, based on my own experience of problem solving, I attempted the question. Secondly, ELT researches and case analysis of different contexts that I have gone through during and after my academic career were equally helpful. Finally, I have used my observation and learning from various professional development trainings in order to answer the questions.

Abadhes Ray:

As a reader of Choutari and a teacher, I was familiar with the problems and their solution faced in ELT. Besides, I had taken two online courses from Oregon University and Maryland University respectively. I was also an access teacher and attended ELT trainings. All these professional engagements with ELT community have been quite supportive while answering the questions.  

Kishor Parajuli:

In my opinion, the concept of open school program introduced by the government is quite good with the view to providing education to all and especially targeting to those who cannot attend school regularly. However, problems I have seen are on the part of execution. The success of the program would reach a high only after all the stakeholders are sensitized on the significance of open school program, and they also play their respective roles.

I find teachers themselves responsible behind classroom problems. While teaching the students, they face challenges and also celebrate their achievements. It is the teachers who witness stories of success and failure of their efforts in the classroom. What they can do is they can carry out an action research in order to learn from failure and replicate and scale up best practices to improve teaching learning activities.

Upendra Kafle:

Awareness for the government’s open school program is yet to be raised as I do not find many target groups, viz. students and guardians familiar with the program. As a result, they have not been able to get benefitted substantially. Besides, local ownership for the program needs to be developed for effective implementation.

No doubt, action research is an appropriate and common tool to solve all the problems related to teaching. It includes problem investigation, taking action & fact-finding. Based on the findings, teachers can adopt most appropriate strategy within its own teaching environment.

Abadhes Ray:

Lack of massive orientation to the target groups and low participation are key problems I have identified so far in the government’s open school program. The participation needs to be encouraged through stakeholders’ engagement in execution.

In order to scale up effective classroom practices and solving pedagogical problems in ELT, action research can be applied for tangible improvement. It is useful for both classroom management and effective teaching practice. A small scale research can be carried out on a specific aspect of teaching. Its application can further improve the teaching and learning outcomes.


This Year’s SLC Exams: Melodrama Continues

April 1, 2014

Praveen Kumar Yadav

The Office of the Controller of Examination (OCE) declared another “successful” SLC this year, despite multiple incidents of violating exam code of conduct. SLC was held across the country this year from March 20 to 28, 2014. Over half million students appeared in the SLC exams, which many of them still perceive as the Iron Gate, which is cruelly known to have slammed on more young individuals than it has opened up life opportunities for. 

According to OCE, 1,836 exam centers were set up across the country in order to conduct the SLC exams for 566,085 students, including 419,352 regular and 146,733 exempted this year. However, some students were disqualified to appear in the exams this year since their attendance in grade 10 was below 75 per cent. Only students with 75 per cent attendance in grade 10 are eligible to take the SLC examinations, as per the Education Act. For instance, 162 students, including 88 boys and 74 girls in Khotang, and 644 in Rupandehi district were not eligible to sit in the exams, according to District Education Offices. Compared to private schools, the number of those disqualified for the examinations is higher in community schools.

This year’s SLC exams witnessed few changes in previous practice such as restriction of the provision for home centers in the schools. The government had allowed home centers for the SLC exams during the Maoist insurgency, with an aim to prevent unpleasant happenings. But, at many home centers a large number of incidents of violence were reported and consequently, the OCE had amended the Examination Management Regulations 2011 a few months ago, before the exams began.

Some days earlier than the exams began, the OCE had circulated that the exams would be conducted in a disciplined and a sober manner this year. Conversely, the irregularities during the exams, though lesser in comparison to the previous ones, were witnessed in different places as the trend of breaching the exams code continued.

The cheating trend and irregularities in the exams continued this year too in eight districts of the Tarai (Parsa, Bara, Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahattari, Dhanusha, Siraha and Saptari), which are mostly eyed on for various reasons and also termed as sensitive ones. Many students and invigilators were expelled for their misconduct. In Dhanusha, one of those sensitive districts, police had to open several rounds of bullets in the air to disperse the mob of agitating examinees and guardians, following a scuffle between the students and police personnel on March 24, 2014. In the incident, two examinees and a policewoman had sustained serious injuries. As a result, the test of social studies paper was cancelled at three exam centers on the fifth day of this year’s SLC exams.

The Terai is not the only region where irregularities in the SLC exams were reported from, there were reports from the Hills as well. 11 exam invigilators were expelled in Humla district after they were found involving in violating the exam regulations, i.e., helping students to answer the question papers.

But this year, unlike previously, the OCE has declared the provision of conducting no re-exams for the students in those centers where locals, guardians, teachers or the students themselves disrupted the exams for whatsoever reason.

The students heavily rely on textbooks or guess papers for the exams and most portion of the evaluation system except in few weightage in practical test of compulsory subjects like English, population studies and optional subjects like computer is written. Again, the practical test in those subjects is seen to have been ineffectiveness and raise a question mark due to lack of proper conduct and effective monitoring mechanism.

Now let us give a glance over the results of the SLC Exams. Last year the country witnessed the dismal results of the Iron Gate for higher studies (41.57 per cent), which is five per cent lower when compared to 2012. This is the lowest percentage results in the last five years. The statistics shows that 90% out of those who fail their SLC exams, fail in core subjects such as Mathematics, English and Science. In this gloomy situation in the backdrop, the Ministry of Education (MoE) had argued that the teachers are to blame for the decline in the public education sector. However, the issue of teacher accountability is not that straightforward. Based on need assessment, the teachers needs to be trained and supervised properly before they are made accountable.

To conclude, conducting fair exams is still a challenging job in Nepal, which is yet to adopt other alternative modes of evaluation system than written exam in secondary schooling system. Although our SLC doesn’t seem to be serving any different purpose than the Chinese “gao kao” or American “SAT”, it is high time we started conversation on how we can make it unique, more acceptable, and more respectable. Until and unless teachers, students, test makers, policy makers, and guardians and other counterparts do not opt for the easiest and the most reliable way to conduct exams with creative techniques, keeping in mind the students enjoy while appearing in the tests, the exams will always remain to be the IRON GATE for the examinees. It is high time the government of Nepal and concerning stakeholders pay due attention to rectify the exam system, which is an integral part of the education system.

praveen

Praveen Kumar Yadav
Editor
Nelta Choutari


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