In the last two decades more Nepalis have failed the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams than passed them. Since the employment segments are leery about hiring and grooming those who failed, we ultimately end up wasting a stunning mass of diverse talent every year. Not counting all the investment in primary and secondary education. This is becoming a nation of SLC-failed citizens.
The collective silence of the Nepali private sector about this waste is odd. As things stand, they complain about a lack of trained manpower in the country but fail to correlate this to the direct impact of poor SLC success rates. The collective future of the business sector is at stake. As business gets more competitive, and needs people with technical skills, knowledge and abilities, how will anyone line up tomorrow's skilled labour force for any growth-oriented company in Nepal? The cost of basic re-education and training will be high for any one company to shoulder, but collectively it becomes easier and feasible for them to start lobbying with the government for an education system that sees to it that students complete high school with employable skills.
It is a cop-out for business leaders to merely give out cash and medals to a handful of SLC-toppers and consider their job done. They must speak up and look for ways to work with other sectors to cut the indiscriminate waste of potential that the SLC effects. After all, a skilled workforce is in the direct interest of every business. Secondary education is too vital a subject to be left to the government and education activists to muddle through. How might business leaders go about tackling the scourge of SLC so that more Nepalis are able pursue a vocation of their choice? I would suggest three ways:
Remove the stigma surrounding SLC-failures: Studies done in the West tracking former students over the course of their careers, have consistently shown that there is very little correlation between educational achievement and on-the-job success. In Nepal too, it's safe to say that most jobs require different sorts of skills than ones tested by memorise-and-regurgitate SLC exams. A Sherpa boy from Solukhumbu may fail a paper on Nepali grammar and be an out-and-out SLC-failure, as is often the case, but make a great success of a trekking agency.
In Britain, students who do seven O level or equivalent papers, and pass only four can sell themselves as '4 O levels pass candidates' to the job market. Why not allow our students too do something similar, and let the market decide whom it wants to hire? This is where interventions by business leaders can make a difference. A few years ago, the then UML government had announced a scheme for recognising SLC-failures as job market candidates, but the absence of political will killed the concept.
Market-related skills: Business houses can sponsor SLC-failed students to obtain trade-related skills and later handpick the smartest ones for their corporations. As medicine, dentistry, engineering and even accounting become areas of specialisation in Nepal, there is an unfulfilled demand for related technicians to operate the machines and do the routine work. These technicians need not be SLC graduates, and their work can be performed by anyone with basic literacy skills, appropriate training and common sense.
Entrepreneurship education: This kind of training, often for free or for nominal fees, has fast become the favoured program among donors and NGOs. Unfortunately these schemes turn a blind eye towards the biggest constraint that entrepreneurs face-marketing and selling their services and products. Business leaders can step in and offer advice with hands-on involvement in designing such educational programs.
All said and done, the trouble with SLC is that it is too closely tied to the job market for all the wrong reasons. The sooner businesses help undo that bond, while pushing the government to revamp the SLC system, the faster Nepalis-regardless of how many SLC papers they fail in-will be able to make a decent living.