Eroding Teaching Standards
Hira Bahadur Thapa
In the ongoing Secondary Education Examination (SEE) of 2074, an example of utter carelessness was noticed on the very first day when students were examined in English paper. This came to light when one of superintendents of an examination centre in Lamjung, pointed out the mistake in the question that carried five marks. The point is not the marks allotted to this question, which raises alarm but the total failure of our examination-related organisations in not correcting such a mistake.
What makes such occurrence of careless events possible is the lack of responsibility on the personnel concerned. Furthermore, when persons found irresponsible for their duties go scot free without having to be liable for the mistakes they make, an environment of immunity pervades. This tendency makes people complacent and they hardly become serious about their jobs and are more likely to commit mistakes than ever. A thorough review of the problems like the lapses in the preparation of question papers will reveal that our education system requires immediate overhaul. Falling standards in the academic circles is due to our flawed policies, which we have been blindly following for the last few decades. In the name of addressing complaints regarding lowered success rates in the secondary level examination, which is viewed as the measuring rod for selecting students for higher education opportunities, the government decided to introduce a system when no one is declared fail.
This arrangement may have some of its positive and beneficial aspects but the way it has been understood by the students and their parents is completely illogical. There is widespread rumor that no student should take his or her examination seriously because they won’t be failing any way. One can understand that students should not fear examination and every student should have a chance to pursue higher education in the area of his or her choice. But recognising this principle of equality does not mean that there is no need for merit or competence.
If we look at the history of school curriculum and the annual examinations, we would find a vast difference in the standard. The text books were so comprehensive until the introduction of so called New Education Plan in 1972, which was implemented throughout the country phase-wise. That was the beginning of the erosion of teaching standards. Books were limited and it had an impact on students’ attitude, who could pass the examination with greater ease as compared to the past.
Taking an example of just English course books until 1972 students had to study two papers on that single subject only. In the first paper students were prepared for comprehension and composition while the second paper was basically focused on grammar. The questions set for those two papers were really tough and so were the examining standards.
One of the noticeable fallacies of current secondary education examination is that the government did not make mandatory the routine preparatory test by the concerned schools being held a few months before the final school leaving examination was held. This new regulation indeed served the purpose of the publicity-oriented government to display the growing number of school graduates but has become counterproductive by killing the incentive of the students to study.
The so-called send up test of then SLC (School Leaving Certificate) as a preparatory examination provided the school the opportunity to finally select the students who are academically prepared to sit for the final. Besides, the students had the feeling that they had to give real focus on their studies.
It seems that we follow the recommendations of the donors without analysing the pros and cons of the policy and this is more frequent in the field of education. When the government ignored the quality in education in the name of having all students enrolled in the schools pass the examination, it was the beginning of the era of eroding teaching standards.
There are more examples to prove government’s lack of necessary measures to maintain the quality in school education. One of them is the lowering the threshold of passing the examination. This has been done by preparing the text books especially in English for the secondary level students in a way that does not demand a reasonable standard of comprehension, composition and other language skills.
Until a few years back students preparing for the school leaving examination were required to take the test in English, covering the lessons of both 9th and 10th grades. Combining reading materials of both classes helped the students to better learn and master the language skills because the text book writers wanted them to acquire the skills simultaneously. But the whole spirit of this principle was undermined by not asking the students to give class ten final test when some questions would be set even from the class nine text books.
Easier test, reduced text books and allotting practical marks even in English under the guise of conversational skills test are all responsible for the continued deterioration in the standards. The dilemma is that the students in the Secondary School Examination are still failing more than ever. Our policy has been to make provisions to assist the examinees get through the examination irrespective of their required language skills. Having pursued such flawed policy we cannot expect our students learn English that can help them communicate whether in speech or writing. There is no emphasis on quality and our sole concern becomes to ensure that more and more school graduates are prepared every year.
The falling standards in English teaching are reflected in the classrooms when a 10th grader is ignorant of comprehending a basic principle in English composition. The rule of English grammar that demands an agreement between the subject and the verb is generally taught in the lower secondary level. Having no knowledge of this basic element one can hardly compose a correct sentence in English grammatically. The episode of the fallacious question in the paper of English is not surprising considering the erosion of standards and the culture of impunity that is unfortunately prospering. Those who commit serious mistakes in setting question as evidenced in this year’s SEE final should be held accountable.