Thirty two percent passed. This was what the nation heard earlier this month, when the SLC results were announced. This is worrying. But what is more so is the pass percentages in public schools compared with their private counterparts. There are districts in which numerous public schools had zero pass rates. Even in a district like Kabhre, that is high in the Human Development Index, the overall pass rate was 25 percent-85 percent of these students were from private schools, the remaining 15 percent, from public schools. Education is already such a fraught issue. And given these statistics, how can the Nepali public be blamed for losing faith entirely in public schools?
We need to take this debate to a higher level than hand-wringing and name-calling. What is at stake here is nothing less than future employment, social welfare and the national economy. The government spends just over Rs 2,000 per student per year, hardly a sign of committed engagement. Private education is too expensive to be available to many Nepalis. And we can't just blame the government for not pumping in enough cash. In many places, the public school teachers are paid more than those in private schools, but the quality of education is as poor as in other places. Things like motivation and dedication are hard to set standards for and even harder to put price tags on. But there are other, more quantifiable features of the education system, especially at the secondary level, like its methods of examination.
The SLC exam creates two kinds of problems. One, although the pass rate appears dismal to us, the fact is that every year, it rises slightly. Those who pass cannot all be accommodated in our better institutions of higher instruction, so they continue to receive a mediocre education. As for the ones who fail, they tend to add to the count of the unemployed. Take it from the Beed, every student who goes through the SLC system aspires to a coloured collar, whether blue or white. The educational system does not respect vocations-a continuation of rote learning and mechanical thought are seen as the end all study aspires to-and so children of farmers or carpenters go looking for desk jobs. In rural Nepal, once a person appears for the SLC exam, it is demeaning for that person to go and work in the fields or even stay in the village. They migrate to urban areas, increasing the claims on already scarce resources. The notion that a job, whether government or private sector, is basically subsidised living has permeated the consciousness of this nation. Everyone wants to earn more by working less and believes a job is the way there.
India has lessons for us-quality education can be made affordable. The states lagging behind in India are the ones where the educational system is comparable to ours. It is now very important that we look at the education sector in totality, in the context of what this country needs and has. We need to examine the utility of national level examinations at so many levels, as well as the system of exams themselves in place. And we need to bring back respect to traditional professions and vocations and realise that while having a formal education is an important aspect of life in modern times, it need not determine what we do, how we make our living. What it does do is enhance our ability to do those things, especially if we return to traditional professions.
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