Covid-19-hit Nepal education in a shambles: Stakeholders seek options, but authorities are unprepared

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File: Children, masked, attend a class at their school amid the coronavirus infection risk, in Kathmandu.

Until the third week of April, Sibesh Yadav, a 10th grader at Viswa Niketan Secondary School in Kathmandu, was preparing hard for his final examinations (Secondary Education Examinations) scheduled to be held from May 27. But, as soon as another round of lockdown began in Kathmandu to curb the coronavirus spread, he began to doubt if the exams would take place as planned.

His doubt got confirmed with the National Examinations Board indefinitely postponing the exams earlier this week.

“I am upset with this news. Or else, the board could have cancelled the SEE entirely and certified the students based on the internal evaluation carried out by the respective schools like they did last year,” he says, “We are in a more critical stage than last year’s students. At least, they got to study the whole course physically and prepare well for the examinations, which we didn’t get. Also, the risk of spreading Covid-19 was much lower then. The situation has turned direr now.”

It is not only Yadav’s but all the scheduled examinations of the students of different levels have been postponed indefinitely this year also. The delay in conducting the examinations last year and closure of the academic institutions for a long time had pushed the entire academic session into a waste of time, leaving thousands of students in dilemma. 

The year has changed, but with the second wave of the pandemic wreaking havoc, the problems of the students have aggravated this year, share students. In the meantime, experts believe the students are suffering mainly due to the laid-back attitude of the concerned authorities, adding it is high time that the authorities sought long-term solutions to this problem whenever similar disturbances could appear in the future also. But, the authorities seem unprepared.

Common confusion

File: Kathmandu University

Noted educationist Bidya Nath Koirala views the tendency of postponing exams in the eleventh hour has put the students in dilemma, their parents in stress and added burden to the whole education system. 

Experiences of different students Onlinekhabar talked to support Koirala’s view. Like Yadav of Kathmandu, Chandra Mohan Bhatt, a BSc CSIT fourth semester student at Siddhanath Science Campus in Mahendranagar, is living with that dilemma and is depressed due to the indecisiveness of the university.

Bhatt shares, “Last year, it took me one and a half years to complete the third semester that should have been over in six months. It looks like it will take about six years and more to complete this four-year programme. This has pushed my entire career and dream back.”

In order to solve this problem, Koirala says the concerned authorities need to speed up immediately seeking a sustainable solution. “It seems nearly impossible to carry out educational  activities physically and normally like before at least for some years.”

Former NEB examination controller Santosh Aryal agrees with Koirala and adds that the authorities, mainly the NEB, seemed unprepared and shortsighted this time, due to which about 1.1 million students are left with uncertainty about their examinations, present and future.

Aryal states, “The board just announced that exams are put off indefinitely, leaving students clueless as the board seems now.”

While postponing the exams every time without providing them with an appropriate alternative on time,  the authorities are just wasting the time of the students, opines Koirala.

Possible alternatives

File image

Considering all these difficulties lingering, Koirala suggests the responsibility of the grade 10 examinations should be given to the schools themselves mainly because the 12th grade has been established as the final year of the secondary level.

Last year, the schools were given this authority for both 10th and 12th-grade examinations. But, when after the results were announced, people found there had not been a fair evaluation by their respective schools. This led many people to criticise the students as if they passed just because the teachers granted the marks. Many hardworking students also felt guilty.

In order to get rid of this problem, the entire SEE system should be discontinued, according to Koirala.

He further recommends, “Regarding examinations of other levels, there are many other alternatives. The first is online exams and the second is the offline one, in which the examinees record or write their answers to submit. If both are not possible, evaluating them on the basis of project works or research is another option.”

He also suggests a new modality of standardised tests for a fair evaluation of the students on time.

Meanwhile, Aryal suggests effectively implementing the previous model consisting of both internal and external examinations.

“The NEB has already faced a similar situation last year and introduced a new modality. The board should have conducted a thorough study on the strengths and weaknesses of that modality immediately after receiving so much criticism last year when the results were out.”

As per the conclusion of the study, the board should have improved the modality or introduced better alternatives foreseeing the possible outcomes, he suggests.

On the other hand, Mithu Kafle, a teacher at a Kathmandu-based school, says the most important thing as of now is to stay safe and keep others safe. Therefore, the authorities should come out with some appropriate alternatives keeping the situation of the pandemic and the students in mind, he suggests.

Unprepared authorities

File: The National Examinations Board, SEE Section

Chandra Mani Paudel, the chairperson of the National Examinations Board, shows a laid-back response about the problem and says, “The next board meeting will decide the fate of the students. We are working on it.”

And, when asked when the next meeting will take place, he says the board will decide it.

Likewise, Pushpa Raj Joshi, the examination controller of Tribhuvan University, the oldest and biggest university in the country, informs, “There has not been any decision regarding the examinations. We are unlikely to conduct examinations till mid-June. Therefore, we have been told to wait for a week. And, after the week, we will hold a meeting and decide.”

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Budhathoki was a correspondent at Onlinekhabar from February 2020 to February 2022.

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