Nepali Times
State Of The State
How about those who didn't pass?


Frequent felicitation syndrome is a social disease. The more starved a society is for achievers, the more felicitation ceremonies it holds. From the neighbourhood kid who makes a robot to a mountaineer who climbs to the top for the 16th time, we really overdo the garlanding and vermilion.

Given our collective addiction for adulation, all 83,747 students who passed SLC this year are being feted. Private sector Plus Two schools woo graduates, distinction-holders are showered with scholarships, there are full-page ads from schools showing off their toppers. Those who excelled distribute sweets and repeat ad nauseam that they want to be doctors, engineers or chartered accountants.

In all the celebrations, few will think of the 132,556 students who couldn\'t make the grade this year-a staggering 62.28 percent of all those who appeared for the high school exams. There is something morally wrong with an examination system that declares a majority of its students as failures so early in life. We say it every year and we say it again-stigmatising school children like this is dishonourable and a national tragedy. The SLC certificate is a piece of paper, not an explanation of the abilities and possibilities of a student.

Our education planners are incapable of understanding the trauma of rural students who struggle for years but can\'t crack a system that isn\'t designed for them in the first place. The SLC Board has neither the intention nor the ability to evaluate individuals of vastly varying backgrounds with different life-skills.

The best fish-farmer from Saptari, the ablest vegetable grower in Dhading, the most skilled carpenter of Doti and the most experienced mountain guide in Manang may have all failed their exams. They have nothing in common with the Bahun-Chhetri-Newar elite whose children overwhelmingly passed. It is impossible to change power-relations in Nepali society without overhauling the school system.

Even though the structure of schooling is unfair to the unprivileged, dramatic improvements in national education aren\'t possible in the short-term. It will be unrealistic to do away with the entire examination system immediately. Perhaps we need to tinker with the structure and introduce gradual changes to maximise returns from investments in the public school infrastructure.

The first thign to do is discard the \'failed\' tag. Certification should emphasise the strength and weaknesses of a student. Based on test performance, for example, the examining authority can say that Indra\'s competence in English is excellent while he needs to improve his math. Chandra did well in science but must work harder to improve her Nepali.

Rehabilitating \'SLC-failed\' school dropouts is much more challenging. Lured by the promise of a better life after school, the students suddenly discover that the doors of opportunities have been slammed on their faces. The temptation to take up the gun and run into the jungles must be hard to resist.

Training school dropouts in employable skills is an option that has failed to grab the national attention. Nepal has dozens of medical and engineering colleges for those who can pay their way but training schools producing carpenters, plumbers, glaziers, electricians, auto mechanics, nurses, housekeepers, bakers, tailors, dyers and painters are rare.

Occupational training requires a working facility with language and arithmetic but not the ability to memorise answers to literature and social studies questions. \'SLC-failed\' youths are best candidates for trade courses and since they are the majority, we must invest in them rather than on those that passed who have other options. Current donor-funded efforts to provide a vocational safety net to the backlog of SLC cast-offs from past years must be taken up as a national campaign.

Instead of addressing these urgent issues we have a government that is obsessed with \'nationalist education\', whatever that is. The successful will take care of themselves, they don\'t need praise. It is the state\'s responsibility to give those who didn\'t make it another chance.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)