Improving The Quality Of Education
Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
The issue of 'quality education' has currently been a major agenda at all fronts. In Nepal, the term 'quality education' is associated mainly with exam results. Thus, there is a popular perception that private schools offer better education than public ones as SEE (Secondary Education Examination) result is consistently higher in them annually. However, this view limits the scope of 'quality education.'
Although the Government of Nepal has taken a number of reform initiatives in the education sector over the past decades, it seems to have missed minor but crucial issues, such as exam questions. Given the fact that classroom process is highly examination centric, there is an urgency to improve exam questions to bring about positive changes. Consequently, it is likely to have a major shift in contributing to the quality of education.
Even if the government introduced letter grading system in SEE examinations four years ago, this has resulted into poorer learning outcomes as students have lost motivation to work hard and achieve more. In fact, the public perception about the letter grading system is that students could succeed without much effort. The past initiatives to reform classroom dynamics has failed thus far because concerned authorities have overlooked minor, but the crucial aspect of improving the exam questions.
In Nepal, the quality of education has remained poor for various reasons. As a development worker, I often interact with a number of public school teachers on various issues. One of the issues teachers point out very often is poor education foundation of students from the lower grades – not learning what they are supposed to as per their grades as a result of liberal promotion policy – CAS (continuous assessment system) for the last two decades. Consequently, it makes teachers hard to deliver 'quality education' in the higher grades (Grade 8, 9 and 10) as they have to begin from the basics while they have limited time frame to do so.
Meanwhile, it is obvious that there are structural factors hindering the 'quality education' in the classroom. For example, teachers find it hard to adopt student centric teaching methods. In general, teachers argue that they have to prepare students for exam, which demotivates them to make students do group work, project work, presentation and so on. Instead, teachers make students exercise from old exam questions. Since Nepal's current exam questions of SEE measures mostly skills for rote learning, a teacher would see no reason in involving students in a creative teaching activities, inculcating higher level of thinking skills in them.
In general, teaching and learning in classrooms has become a kind of ritual as teaching materials are not used as much as required. Most schools have limited teaching materials, and teachers hardly use it citing the same reason – they have to teach students for exam which requires no analysis and evaluation skills. This means teachers conduct classroom process as per the questions as asked in the national examinations. Hence, types of questions as asked in the exams overwhelmingly dominate everyday classroom teaching and learning process, seriously limiting the scope of 'quality education.'
In short, the questions asked in the national level examinations mostly measure lower cognitive skills, such as remembering and recalling. In other words, the exam questions measure how much one can remember facts, data or information instead of measuring students' analysis and evaluation skills. As it is clear that our exam questions have deficiency, they need to be improved to contribute to 'quality education' in Nepal's community schools.
In this context, blaming teachers for poor quality of teaching and learning in public schools can partially be justifiable. At the moment, there is contradiction between what methodology we want teachers to use in the classroom delivery and the types of questions as asked in the national examinations. Since these two issues remain unreconciled at the moment, all the efforts to reform education sector has little been successful. In fact, it is high time concerned authorities give due attention to this key issue of enhancing the quality of education.
In short, much discussion has taken place on 'quality education' at the public sphere. Yet, the dynamics of classroom teaching and learning has hardly transformed over the years, which is the central aspect for improving the quality of education. Nepal's private schools are no exception in this regard as they also focus on rote learning from the very early grades. The hue and cry for 'quality education' nationally and internationally has hardly resulted into fruition at the frontline, i.e. at the school levels. To bring about real changes, it is necessary to work at the ground level.
(Budhathoki is an Education Coordinator at Mercy Corps Nepal)