My School Leaving Certificate (SLC) results lay bare, very very starkly, the vagaries of the examination, raising again, serious questions about its appropriateness and usefulness as an assessment of the abilities of graduating Nepalese high school students.
My schooling at St. Xavier’s ended in the winter of 1986. All through school — both primary and secondary — I had maintained a very good academic record, the results of the Finals (image 1 below) being an accurate reflection of my ability. North-American teachers had taught us all the subjects except for two.
After completing the requirements for high school diploma (SLC), while we waited for the results — expected after about 6 months — over a dozen of us enrolled again at St. Xavier’s to study O’Levels, a defunct British curriculum (now replaced by A-Levels).
As you can see, my first term results that spring (Image 2 below) is pretty consistent with the preceding results. Not unlike when I had been a 10th grader, North-American teachers taught us all the subjects except for two.
SLC examinations themselves were held in January, 1987, not long after school finals. The results of that examination (see Image 3 below), however, were a little different, not surprisingly!
So, how did I go from achieving a total of over six hundred in the school finals to less than five hundred in the real examination and falling in the ranking from 3rd to 9th?
I wasn’t sick nor did I suffer from anything else immediately before or during the examination. As a matter of fact, I have distinct memories of taking the examinations at a neighboring school, sitting on a bench with fellow candidates from other schools flanking me on both sides no more than half a foot away! I remember other students around me, sitting close to me, including those sitting in front and behind, liberally copying from my answer sheets! (I have always wondered how they must have fared!)
The reason wasn’t that the SLC papers were tougher. As a matter of fact, every single paper we took in the school Finals had been tougher and more challenging!
The explanation, firstly, lies in the nature of the examination. SLC accesses a student’s ability to regurgitate, word-for-word, pre-determined answers to questions.
A number of my answers may have been deemed “wrong” because, not having taken private tuition (lessons), I hadn’t memorized the “right” answers from “Guess Papers.” My family could not afford to pay for private tuition.
Notice how my SLC English grades are considerably lower, for instance, in spite of the fact that its level was — and probably still is — comparable to what we at St. Xavier’s had tackled as 8th graders! Apart from questions testing my ability to regurgitate materials from the prescribed textbooks, I would have had very little difficulties with the English paper even as an 8th grader!
After all, North-American teachers had taught us the subject since grade 4! We had completed most of the Grammar required for SLC in 5th grade! By the end of 8th grade, we had already had experiences writing book reports, analyzing English songs, making radio plays etc. By then, I had gotten to a point where I was reading novels written by authors such as Alistair McLean, Robert Ludlum, Agatha Christie etc. Furthermore, our North-American teachers had taught us from textbooks published and printed in India, which were considerably more challenging than the prescribed textbooks published and printed in Nepal.
Similar argument can be made of Science. We had a science lab! We had North-American Science teachers teaching us the subject by making us “do science.” Just like English, we studied the subject from textbooks far advanced than the prescribed one etc. etc. etc.
The other reason for the poorer result is probably just random! When we were students, we used to hear — and also pass around — stories/rumors of irregularities with the way SLC papers were graded. I distinctly remember two of them, though there were a number of them.
The first said that the examiner (the grader) throws the papers on a staircase. The grade assigned to a paper depending on where it landed! (There would have to be a different criteria for grades awarded to private versus government school student papers!)
The other story was that the examiner would ask his children to either grade them or assign random grades to the papers!
Some might argue, why would how the papers are graded matter anyway?! Most kids fail the examination!
The year I took it, while only 2 out of 69 of us failed, the countrywide average failure rate was a whopping 75%!
If I, a student from one of the premier schools in the country — a school with incredible resources and thus providing a privileged, high quality education to its students — dropped 114 points, what chance do government school students have…students who cannot afford private tuition?!
What would a drop of over 100 points or so mean to a student attending a government school? It could mean the difference between passing and failing!
Besides, what does passing the SLC mean anyway if all it assesses is the ability of the students to regurgitate answers to questions, which, in the first place, don’t make much sense?!
Today, over two decades later, not much appears to have changed!