SLC System: From Rhetoric To Reality : Kushal Pokharel

Every year, SLC results in Nepal attract unprecedented attention of the media and the society. Of late, the media is abuzz with reports, such as: Since 2011, this is the highest pass percentage (47.43), and in the last four years, there has been a slight improvement in the results of the community schools with 33.92 pass percentage. The hype is so big that it ften overshadows pertinent issues of national significance.

While the results of important exams like medicine and engineering, among others, hardly become a top story, SLC-related news gets immense media coverage. The general impression is such that there is no other academic degree as important as the SLC for the students. Does that mean that there are no life opportunities for those who can’t pass the exam? Can’t they live a decent life just because they failed a three-hour exam which tests more of their memory than skills?

Moreover, it is really worrisome that only the administrative aspect of this exam becomes a matter of discussion. Issues like pass percentage, number of distinction and first division holders, and difference between the pass rate from public and private school are at the forefront of the talk. But the all important academic discourse around the SLC has never received serious attention.

Important aspects of analysing the SLC system have remained long overdue in our education. Questions relating to the underlying causes of students’ failure in the SLC and the role of the current exam pattern for it are hardly raised.

As a matter of fact, reforming the examination system incorporating the emerging trends in assessing students’ performance is something that is clearly missing. Judging the quality of the students by the internationally outdated three-hour exam system still persists. Preparing students for the exams rather than for life has stifled innovation in learning, which is really unfortunate.

The rhetoric

Glorification of the SLC results has become a dominant feature of our society. Parents often boast of their kids for achieving distinction and first division. Needless to say, the school management and teachers are always in a hurry to take credit for the success of their students. On the contrary, if students fail, very few of the teachers and school headmasters confess that it is owing to their teaching and management style.

With the publication of the results, there is an unhealthy competition among the academic institutions to publish fancy newspaper advertisements claiming that they are the best centres of learning in the country. How can they be so assertive about their quality? Can these institutions claim that they have empowered the students with the life skills to move ahead in the academic and professional world? What multiple skills have they equipped the students with? Thus,  achieving excellent results can’t ensure that the students have learned better and can live a quality life.

Learning as such is a continous process which needs to integrate knowledge, values and skills. However, in the existing system, the examiners are interested in testing only knowledge. The integral component of values and skills in the evaluation is utterly neglected. In this scenario, the SLC system demands enhanced rote memorisation from the students, which is at the bottom of the learning curve. Students are expected to mug up verbatium the theories and pass the exams.

There is little room for students to be creative and innovative in their answers although the first line of every question paper reads: “Candidates are expected to write their original answers as far as practicable.” Having said that, they are bound to rote learn and pass.

Let’s take an example: Suppose there is a question in science that reads: What is energy and discuss its types. This particular question is asking students to define energy and its various kinds. The primary objective here is to test the knowledge of students rather than to check the application of the same knowledge. However, if the question is rephrased as: How is kinetic energy different from potential energy? Give an example based on your own observation, students would have to think deeper and move onto a higher order analysis skill to get the answer. Attempting the second question would give them the confidence to analyse and critique issues, which are important to excel in the professional world.  

There is a long academic journey ahead of the students beyond the SLC. Faring better in the SLC doesn’t imply that they will surpass every other exam. While it’s okay to praise students for their achievement in the SLC, it is really devastating to make them feel they can pass every other exam with ease. The growing sense of complacency among high achieving students will limit their future potential.

Another important reality that our system fails to make students realise is to pursue their passion irrespective of the scores they obtain in the SLC. The bitter reality of life is that you won’t become a medical doctor by pursuing plus two in science just because you obtained a distinction in the SLC. In the same way, you needn’t quit the decision of studying medicine simply because of your low percentage in the SLC exams. What should determine the decision is your passion, something you really want to do in your life.

Rethinking  examination system

It is high time we ushered in reforms in our examination system. Beginning from the primary level, we need to design an examination that will test the skills, attitudes and values of our students besides knowledge. Likewise, integrating everyday classroom activities of the students including attendance, team work, individual presentations into the evaluation system are the needs of the hour. Unless we can make the students feel that examinations can take place anytime anywhere and  abolish the fear of preparing all the time, the pass-fail divide will continue to grow, permeating deeper into the society.

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