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Mana Prasad Wagle, Educationalist

New SLC grading system reflects students' capability better.

Mana Prasad Wagle is an Educationalist.

The eighth amendment to the Education Act has ended the country’s 10-year schooling practice, with the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination now slated to be held at the end of grade 12.  The education bill endorsed by Parliament last week has paved the way for a 12-year school education system. The government has also introduced a new evaluation system—Letter Grading System—and grades (instead of marks) were assigned in this year’s SLC results. Against this background, Binod Ghimire spoke to educationalist Mana Prasad Wagle about the new grading system, the confusion surrounding it, other amendments to the education act, and the future of the school education system.

How does the new grading system in the SLC exams benefit the students?
The new evaluation system helps the students in two ways. First, the system better reflects the capability of the students and, as per their performance in their tenth grade, directs them towards appropriate subjects for grade 11. Second, this system will reduce the stress of the students appearing for the exam and they will not have to fear their tenth grade exams like earlier.

Many seem to think there is no provision for ‘failure’ in the new system. How far is that true?
Officially, the students will not ‘fail’; there is no provision for an F grade. But there is a provision for categorising unsatisfactory performance. If a student scores less than a GPA of 1.6 and fails to achieve a D+ grade in at least one subject, he or she will be ineligible for promotion to grade 11.

What is the source of the confusion about whether students with a D+ will be eligible for promotion?
The confusion stems from the fact that the Office of the Controller of Examinations (OCE) has made a mistake in printing the grade equivalent table. For example, A+ is 3.6-4 GPA, but A is not 3.2 to 3.6, it is 3.2 to 3.59. Similarly, D+ is not 1.2 to 1.6, it is 1.2 to 1.59. The government should correct this mistake as soon as possible.

Some people have also pointed to the confusion about who is eligible for a re-sit. This is a fair point and we are holding discussions about it.

How would you respond to the allegation that the government implemented the new system without proper homework?
The Ministry of Education (MoE ) did not do proper homework before implementing the amendment to the Education Act. They need to acknowledge this and correct the shortcomings. Most importantly, they need to clarify the grading system immediately.

They are many lapses in this current system. The government has not internalised the intent of the system. To adopt it properly, the government needs to define the indicator of quality for every subject. Examinations need to be modified accordingly and the teachers need to be trained on the new system. Moreover, internal evaluation is an integral part of the new grading system. To enforce it, a new semester system has to be introduced. But the MoE has not done any of these. So, at this point it has only created an outline of the structure.

Would you say there are foundational flaws in the system?
To adopt this system, we should have started from grade one. About 18 years ago, I had conducted a workshop with the stakeholders of the education sector. I had submitted a report to the government stating that in order to adopt the grading system successfully, we should first introduce the system in the lower classes and then gradually move up to the higher grades. Our suggestion was not heeded perhaps because the report was not prepared by a state body. But even the 2004 Mathema Report advised the same. Still, the government has not taken any action. So the sudden adoption of the new system, that too from grade 10, does raise some eyebrows.

The government has been consistently blamed for the ailing condition of public schools and for the small amount of budget it allocates to the education sector every year. So it seems the MoE is trying to save face by implementing this system. But the flaws in the system have made it look worse.

As per the new system, the government will prescribe what subjects students can study after grade 10. Should the government have this authority?
On the one hand, the government is saying that with the new system, grades 9 to 12 fall under secondary education and that the students can move up from grade 10 as per their capability. But on the other hand, it is prescribing what students can study after grade 10. This is contradictory. Moreover, the tenth grade exams do not have predictive validity; it is not a standardised test that can decide the students’ career.

But don’t you think there should be some basic criteria to qualify to study certain subjects?
According to international practice, there is usually a minimum standard that students have to meet to be able to study certain subjects. But we have not set up any minimum standard. This is wrong. Just getting higher marks in technical subjects will not guarantee a student’s success. Maybe, s/he would have done better in the humanities. Students’ interest and capability need to be taken into consideration. An aptitude test is required after they pass their exam to find out which subjects will suit them.

As the country is entering into a federal set-up, an amendment to the education act was pending for a long time. Do you think it will be implemented smoothly?
Once the President approves it, the National Examination Board will be created, which will decide the criteria for three board exams: District Board Exam (grade 8), Regional Board Exam (grade 10) and National Board Exam (grade 12). I hope they will quickly create the body, as one year is not a long time. This system needs to be in place around this time by next year.

Some argue that the amendment was introduced just to manage the situation of temporary teachers? Do you agree?
There was not much progress in the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP) 2009-2015. The government tried to fix it, but donors were not satisfied, so some pulled out whereas a few put in some funds. This time, however, the donors said that they will not provide funds for SSRP as indicated in the budget if the government failed to introduce the amendment. Thus, due to pressure from the donors, the government had no choice but to immediately endorse the amendment which was lingering for the past seven years.

There have been many complaints about the capabilities of government school teachers. For instance, a relief package is being provided so that some teachers might decide to take it and leave if they were not too serious about teaching, whereas those who wanted a career in teaching would rather not opt to take the package. This provision was introduced as per the School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) and to appease the donors. However, as the teachers have begun to protest, this may not be helpful to resolve the issue.

Students till now had an option of leaving school after the 10th standard. Will the new changes have an impact on this?
Yes, they will. Till now, if the students passed grade 10, they would have completed school level education and would be eligible for further studies in certain academic fields. But now that the completion of school level education requires a student to pass grade 12, students who drop before that will not be eligible for certain fields.

The current system has schools that run classes for grade 1 to 3, 1 to 5, 1 to 8, 1 to 10 and 1 to 12. In the days ahead, there could be schools running classes for grade 9 to 12. This will put pressure on those private schools that are running classes for only the 11th and 12th standards. They have been informed from 2010 that they should consider running classes for the 9th and 10th standards as well. Otherwise, they might not get approval to run their schools.

There has been lobbying for allowing schools to run classes for grade 11 and 12 only, and it was agreed a few days ago that such schools can continue for another four to five years.  Does this not contradict the new provisions?
Schools should not be allowed to run classes for grades 11 and 12 only. We should even get rid of international boards like A-levels, CBSE and IB. Allowing foreign boards in the country will undermine the government’s current stand and it will show that it is not interested in or responsible for improving the country’s education system. The higher secondary act which had the provision for schools running grades 11 and 12 only has been dismissed now. More problematic is the provision regarding the registration of new private schools. As per the new amendments, the schools that have already been registered under the company act will be allowed to continue, but new schools have to be registered as private Guthi. This is unfair. This is the result of keeping private school stakeholders in the committee authorised to pass the amendment. This should not be allowed.

source: Ghimire, Binod(2016),"New SLC grading system reflects students' capability better", the kathmandu post,22 june 2016

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