In total, 662,185 students took the test but only 217,211 pulled through! How is it possible that two thirds of the SLC examinees can’t even score “33” in the SLC exam – after ten years of hard school work!? and how can the results be so miserable after billions of rupees invested in the education sector over the last decade or so? There is even more reason to ask this question in light of the drop-out rate. Two out of three students drop out before they reach 10th grade; more than 50 percent end up repeating at least one grade; and 40 percent don’t even make it to grade 8! The numbers available speak volumes about the SLC and the school system at large. Out of 1,361,747 students who started in grade 1 in 2004, merely 173,436 students – or barely 15 percent – passed SLC ten years later. Statistics for the last six-seven years suggest that things are not getting better. Indeed, school enrolment has increased greatly – which is a success – and also the number of tenth graders is going up significantly. But a steadily lower percentage of them pass SLC, as shown opposite. So, the odds of the young examinees are getting worse! What’s wrong, then, with the school system? Well, many critics have a hard time – in fact – finding anything really good to say about it. Let’s start with the continuing and massive delay in school textbook distribution. Every year, as a result of corruption, red-tape and poor coordination in printing and distribution, tens of thousands of students are left without textbooks two to three months into the school year. This year alone, the backlash in production was 4.7 million textbooks just a month before the new school-year starts! Read more about this issue right here. Or take the severe weakness of the most important resource on any school: the teachers. Teachers at many schools are inadequate, poorly qualified and frequently absent from class. Many teachers, not least in the rural areas, have a farm or business on the side; others reside in town and like to stay there; and some are absent due to party activities. Some schools even close when the party calls. So who’s going to instruct the students when not only textbooks but also teachers are missing?! The school system is indeed not alone to be blamed. Unemployment and poor job prospects even with an SLC on the resume is not exactly motivating. Moreover, the high dropout rate – starting at grade 1 – also has to do with quite practical considerations in poor families. Why throw scarce income after tuition and school uniforms when menial work offering at least some income can be had without; when children can contribute by helping out on the farm; and when many won’t pass the SLC anyway!? But poorly functioning schools isn’t helping, either. SLC scores are much lower – and dropout and repetition rates much higher – in Nepal’s remote and poorer districts than in better off districts and towns. It’s not without importance whether you attend a village school somewhere on the outskirts or go to a school in town. Far-western districts, for example, not to mention many Terai districts, show poorer records than wealthier Hill districts. On average, 11 percent of the 5 to 16 year-olds are not in school, but in districts like Kapilvastu, Saptari, Siraha, Parsa, Dhanusha and Mahottari, the same rate is over 20 percent! It’s also not irrelevant whether you attend a private school, often called a boarding school, or a public government school. Some calculations show that out of those who pass the SLC – at least in recent years – more than two thirds graduate from a private school. Indeed, last year 72 percent of the SLC-pass students came from a boarding school, only 28 percent from a public school! Who can afford the boarding school tuition? Well, like in any other country, the wealthier families. In short, the poor children attend public schools where the odds for passing the SLC are much lower. Is the SLC examination itself flawed, outdated and maybe too difficult for many students to pass? Indeed, is a tiered system – such as a high, medium and low level exam – which would allow the poorer students to get a School Leaving Certificate too – worth considering? Either way, it is tragic to have a basic education system that continues to flunk two-thirds of the country’s tenth-graders – and leave many more behind. Right now, tens of thousands of students are nervously staring at the Iron Gate. The pressure is enormous and to those who fail the disappointment often will be, too.These days our thoughts go out to Nepal’s young boys and girls who are about to face the SLC examination. Known as the “Iron Gate”, the examination is feared by thousands of youth every year – and for good reason. The odds of passing are simply poor. It’s not just that many of the students will get very low marks. No, most will not even pass. Last year, like in many previous years, only one-third of the SLC examinees made it.
We extend a warm-felt GOOD LUCK to all Nepal’s young tenthgraders – and even if you fail, remember that you’re all still gems of the country! More about the SLC after the examinations.