Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    Darker sides of SLC

    PURAN PD BISTAMy cousin, Bharat Bista, the head of Patharya High School in Jhapa for a decade and now in his retirement, said to me “School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination is of no use, especially in the Tarai belt.” I sought for some explanation as I wondered what he meant by the phrase “no use.” He also says that private schools bribe superintendents and invigilators of each exam center to allow the examinees to mass copying: Even a student who can hardly read and write fetches above 70 percent in the SLC exams.

    He further elaborated that the practice of bribing superintendents and invigilators seeped into Jhapa from Sarlahi and Saptari districts. Now even government schools have followed the suit to produce “better SLC results.” I still wonder how such evil seeped into Nepal. But keeping in mind the series of events that are unfolding during the ongoing SLC exams, it is easier for me to trust his words. 

    Each day, some students are being reportedly expelled from their exam centers. One fake student was a daughter of Kiran Devi Yadav, Constituent Assembly member from UML. The daughter sat for the exam on her mother’s behalf. The incident has been hushed up but some teachers found helping students cheat have been booked for their misdemeanors.

    But the means by which the government officials responsible for holding free and fair exams are being bribed has not come to light yet, particularly from the Tarai centers.

    Back in the capital, the trend is that private schools bribe government officials for a lesser strict center so that their students can copy from their peers. Besides, oral exams (viva voce), called speaking tests, also matters, as out of 20 in English subject, many of the students obtain full 20 marks, provided the speaking-test examiners present during the test are bribed beforehand. As a result, some private schools in the capital, which are proud of obtaining cent percent distinction, do employ such unfair practices, in addition to bribing the education officials for manipulating marks before the SLC results.

    Given Nepal’s SLC students’ strength, over half a million students have appeared in the SLC exams this time. Of them, over 64 percent will pass the exam; that is, roughly above 300,000 students, as the pass percentage of the past four years shows. Most of them will be wanting to study in the capital’s anglicized junior colleges as these so-called English colleges have no-cut off percentage for admission but pursue a policy- “how much money annually a student can pay in the form of tuition fees, admission fees and other weird charges.” At the end of the academic session, a student ends up paying more than Rs 70,000. And these colleges churn out products nothing better than doing clerical jobs. So quality, creativity and honesty do not count. What counts is money and the numbers of students the colleges manage to take in .

    Private and Boarding School Organization Nepal (PABSON) advocates that they are better organized to manage and cater quality education to students; but the term “quality” has posed a question as some private schools themselves are used to practicing such unfair means for obviously short-term gains. And most of those who run private schools and junior colleges are either government school teachers or those who took years to get degrees or those who are still pursuing studies. While we may forget such improprieties by calling them minor incidents, they are extremely disturbing developments.

    Teaching is one of the most idealized professions in the world. We have seen movies where a teacher transforms a rowdy and self-absorbed bunch of kids into well-behaved and self-actualized creatures. Some of them are based on true stories. 

    In our scriptures, too, teachers are considered second parents who impart moral values and ethics that help students stand, walk, talk and help those who are in need. But are educators, these days, really imparting proper lessons? If so, why do they help students cheat in the examinations?

    Like doctors, lawyers, and journalists, educators are subject to a set of ethical dos and don’ts on contentious issues like that of private tuitions and corporal punishment. New teachers abide by laws, and schools introduce moral lessons to distinguish good from bad. Teachers are the first figures of public authority, and it makes sense not to let that authority be unfettered. Their every action makes strong impressions, and their behavior is a powerful determinant of a child’s cast of mind. They can’t afford to appear arbitrary or self-interested. So, shouldn’t educators be made accountable?

    If Nepal’s population is not trained to face the globalized world, such private schools which practice such unfair means for better SLC results, can never be trailblazers. Primary and secondary education is the first step in that training. A student who is encouraged to use unfair practices cannot be honest, nor can s/he ever demonstrate creativity or ingenuity. Later, in the academic career, s/he tends to practice what has been encouraged during his/her early academic years, and this will be a hindrance to competitive spirit.

    A change for better can never be achieved so long as ethics remains an unanswered question. Fundamentally, a school or college is a social institution; it should be run by a social organization for the benefits of the society and not for investors who charge exorbitant fees and mock the education system. The government officials and politicians who have flouted the basic codes to devalue education are the darker sides of our education system.