Nepali Times Asian Paints
How to achieve a 100 per cent pass rate in the SLC



As I flew into Nepal and was greeted by the sight of mountains obscured by clouds of dust above a chaotic spread of buildings, vehicles, and human beings, I couldn't help but wonder what difference my short internship with an education-oriented NGO would make. Little did I know these first impressions of sharp contrasts and striking diversity, obscured by dust, would mirror my experience of Nepali education and convince me that thinking globally about reforming Nepali schools requires 'watching locally'.

Most would agree that it is necessary to provide equal access to quality education for underprivileged children. Unfortunately, many of the large-scale top-down education reforms of the last few decades have used approaches akin to deploying jackhammers on nails. The universal, one-size-fits-all model promoted by these reforms ignores the ethnic, cultural, economic and geographic diversity of Nepali students. My internship with The Learning Center of Kathmandu (TLC), which is staffed by four Nepalis and has an annual budget of under US$20,000, demonstrated how small, targeted programs can effect significant change.

It's 6am in Maheshpur, Jhapa. Uniformed students emerge from the morning mist. Some have cycled from 15km away, and classrooms are filled by 6.30am. The stage is set for two hours of Partners In Education (PIE) tutorials. The program pairs committed private school teachers with underperforming, albeit promising, public school students in grades 8-10 for tutorials in the three most problematic subjects Ė English, Math, and Science. It currently provides free tutoring to more than 300 children in Jhapa. Since its inception five years ago, not a single PIE-tutored student has failed the SLC, an impressive 100 per cent success rate compared to the national average of 40 to 60 per cent. And the cost to donors? Less than US$4 per student per month.

Leaving my home in central Europe at 16 for better quality education abroad, I could relate to the apathy I have seen in the eyes of Nepali public school children. TLC's efforts to close the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged via simple, concrete, targeted interventions has transformed this apathy into the sparks of enthusiasm that I saw in the classrooms of Maheshpur. Witnessing this newfound passion for learning, I wondered: Why doesn't this program reach children in other parts of Nepal?

Raphael Pradhan, the head of TLC, has similar questions. He cites the example of Tara Bahadur Waiba. Tara was a domestic labourer before joining PIE in 2006. Completing three years of tutoring enabled him to secure an impressive higher second division result in the SLC. "He even received the 'Most Regular Student Award' which TLC gives out annually for recognition of student dedication. Despite the handicap of coming from a financially poor background, he had the zeal to further his studies and improve his living standards," Raphael remembers. Today, Tara is studying in Bhairahawa and aspires to become a Health Assistant in dentistry. "I would like to see more poor and underprivileged students receive extra help so that they can at least complete high school and stand on their own two feet, just like Tara did," Raphael says.

PIE has its limitations. Improved public school supervision is needed to ensure it does not become yet another excuse for absentee teachers in government schools who then claim responsibility for the results. Crucially, its scalability depends on the availability of human capital and funding: in the absence of any support from aid agencies, the small individual donations sustaining TLC at the moment do not allow for further expansion.

PIE will not solve the underlying problems of the Nepali education system, but it does promise more concrete results for individual students than many larger programs. So far aid agencies and government have not hit upon the right mix of interventions for education in the developing world. In the meantime, programs like PIE can help close the gaps. With public support, targeted programs can be sustained and scaled up to reach the widest possible range of beneficiaries.

Support TLC and PIE at

Enjoy the silence, RABI THAPA
Keeping the peace, KASHISH DAS SHRESTHA

1. puspa pant
School is considered to be the place to learn and one thing that every student learn in a typical Nepali school is "to look for a Guess Paper" or "to  look for an extra tuition centre (paid)". It is surprising to see that the same teacher is teaching in both places. I have yet not understood is what makes the students "understand better" at the tuition centre! since it is the same teacher and same subject matter.

2. Steve Bloomberg

Not every student who fail go for tuition, those who go are the ones who have the desire and commitment of time to go to the tuition center.

Remember tuition is in addition to the school, it is something extra, that's why..

So many students here in USA also get failing grade despite free education, what shall we do for them?

3. Sunil Pokhrel
It would have been better had this report cited the failing rate of the children prior to PIE intervention.  The growing pass rates in the SLC exams has trickle down effect in most of the schools. So, it might not be academically correct to state the PIE was responsible for all the good results.

The report doesn't tell the readers the methodology of the tutorials. Moreover, SLC exams have been reduced to the need of memorizing 10 most frequent questions for each subject and writing them down in a few pages of the answer sheet.

As the report is silent over many issues on the process of PIE; I would like to ask the writer: How is it different than the flood of guess papers that we see in the market?

The ones who pass the  exams memorizing selected answers for frequent lack in-depth understanding of the subject. In the market we are having just that now, may it be public or private graduates.

4. peter sutoris
to answer some of the points that have been raised...

1) PIE is not concerned with the methodology behind SLC exams. it takes the exams as a given. we could have a (perfectly valid) debate over the quality of the SLC exams, but that's not the point here. the point is that in its current form, the exam in many ways determines the future of the kids. to see the causal impacts of passing vs. failing the SLC, see the @font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 10pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Shrestra, B. (2005) Tracer study of secondary school leavers. SLC Study Report #10. Kathmandu: The Education Sector Advisory Team, Ministry of Education and Sports.

2) to answer Sunil Pokhrel's point about failing rates prior to intervention - those would in fact not be sufficient to establish causality between PIE and improved pass rates. it's feasible that many of the students who sign up for PIE possess enough self-determination to pass SLC without the tutorials, and that all those kids would be in the "pass" group at their respective schools even in the absence of the intervention. to establish solid causality, we would need to randomly assign kids to the intervention group vs. the control group and introduce control measures to take care of the variation in socioeconomic status, etc. in other words, what you are suggesting would not help us determine that the intervention indeed accounts for the success of the kids. that's why "the report is silent" on the issue - in my view it's better to show conclusive statistics (which we don't have, and neither does a vast majority of other development interventions) than semi-meaningless ones. i can assure you however that low pass rates are a prerequisite for a public school to be considered for PIE; in fact some of the schools in which the intervention took place made it to the papers as some of the worst performing schools in the country. i would be happy to look up the exact numbers for you but as i explained above, this exercise would not get us much further. that's why the article explains how the intervention works, and states that all the kids who have taken part in it have passed so far. those are the facts. for me, personally, a 100% pass rate is indicative of a causal link between the intervention and outcome, and alternative explanations seem less likely considering such a high pass rate (especially given that PIE gives all the students a baseline performance test and selects the underperforming students, not the ones who are on their way to get their SLC). it's up to the reader to make up their mind whether they believe the intervention has an impact or not. sadly, a rigorous impact evaluation that would allow us to establish solid causality would be too expensive for a program that currently runs on such a small scale.

3) methodology of the tutorials -- not entirely sure what you mean by this, but from what i've seen of PIE, the key point is that the teachers follow the same practices as they do in their respective private schools. this means the kids in the public schools get the same quality of teaching as the kids in the private school. again, we could talk about whether the practices these teachers apply in their private schools are good or bad, but what it comes down to is do the kids pass or not? are the doors to further education and employment opportunities closed to them or not?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)