Results overshadow competences

by Abu Jar M Akkas | Updated at 11:12pm on May 19, 2018

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A file photo shows students rejoicing after the results of their SSC Examinations are published. The jubilation that is centred on results in public examinations overshadows the competences that they need to learn. — New Age/Sony Ramany

THE results of secondary public examinations, Secondary School Certificate and other equivalent examinations in the vocational and madrassah streams, have been out, having the pass percentage at 77.77. The figure is for the combined pass percentage that takes into account all the secondary final examinations of all the streams.
The pass percentage only for the Secondary School Certificate Examinations in 2018 is 79.40. The figure was 81.21 per cent in 2017, 80.70 per cent in 2016, 86.67 per cent in 2015 and 92.67 in 2014, when the decline started before gradually upping from 48.037 in 2004, when it made a great leap, by about 12 percentage point, from 35.91 in 2003. The decline that had taken place before began in 1995, when it was 73.2, inching up from 71.46 in 1994 after making a great leap, by about 10 percentage points, from 61.09 in 1993. The figure hovered around the mark before making a giant leap to 64.95 in 1991 from 31.73 in 1990.
A string of figures or a mess of them that it might seem, as it is given on the BANBEIS web site, tells great tales, from 1990 when 4,35,918 students took the public examinations to 2018 when about 16,24,423 students took the examinations, of the national secondary education. The figures might well point to the policies that managers of national education take on having how many of the students they wanted to take to the next level every year.
The figures are, therefore, tales of success to take pride in, even falsely, and of failures to lament over. In about 28 years, the pass percentage in the Secondary School Certificate Examinations had a two-and-a-half-fold increase while the number of students taking the examinations had increased by about four-fold.
Do such increases make the nation better educated? Curriculums have set objectives for students to achieve. When the curriculums are developed or changed, the planners set a set of targets, or competences, for students to learn — some thousand words in a certain class, for an example, that most of the students would learn, mathematical problems of certain complexities that most of the students would be able to solve, or certain knowledge of science and other subjects that most of the students would have at the end of the course.
The purpose is simple: to create knowledgeable, skilled, rational, creative and patriotic human resources full of human, social and moral qualities through holistic development of learners. Has the education system been all along able to reach the goals? Curriculums are developed, designed and reviewed and textbooks are created and published by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, the management of the secondary education, and its related affairs including teaching staff and classroom teaching, is under the oversight of the Secondary and Higher Education, and the public examinations are governed by the boards of intermediate and secondary education — there are eight such boards now — in the general stream.
In a situation like this, after the Curriculum and Textbook Board develops the curriculum and creates the textbooks modelled on the competences aimed at in the curriculum, it is the Secondary and Higher Education wing of the ministry of education that is supposed to ensure that schooling, or classroom teaching, adheres to a teaching system and method with the competences in focus and it is the education boards that see if the students have been properly trained in the competences that the curriculum authorities planned and the teaching management executed.
Wings of the two education ministries — the ministry of education and the ministry of primary education — prepare and publish reports, not regularly though, on the competences that the student acquire for assessment.
The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, in its Learning Assessment Survey 2013, which was published in November 2014, says that only 34 per cent of Class VIII students had the required competence in English, 35 per cent in mathematics and 49 per cent in Bangla.
The Learning Assessment of Secondary Institutions 2015, a later-day version of which was published in August 2016, says that 51 per cent of Class VIII students failed to achieve the expected level of competence in English, 46 per cent in mathematics and 46 per cent in Bangla.
The Directorate of Primary Education, in its National Student Assessment 2013, published in 2015, says that 75 per cent of Class V students lacked the required competence in mathematics and 75 per cent of students lacked the expected competence in Bangla.
The reports had more figures and percentages on classes and subjects. But they all show that the competences that the curriculum board aims at has largely not been adequately acquired by an adequate number of students. This points to the failure of the education system.
The reason behind such a happening is simple. The public examinations are result-centric and are in no way focused on competences that the students require to learn. The curriculum board, education boards and education officials are reported to have said, on several occasions in the past, that public examinations assess the quality of students and methods to test competences of students are something different, as, they say, is the case the world over.
What has compounded the issue is the four public examinations — one directly conducted by the ministry of primary education, the Primary Education Completion Examinations, and others by the boards of intermediate and secondary education, the Junior School Certificate Examinations, the Secondary School Certificate Examinations and the Higher Secondary Certificate Examinations — that the students need to take in their, officially, first 12 years of education.
Although the Primary Education Completion Examinations, being conducted directly by the ministry of primary education, have all the characteristics of public examinations, being held at the same time on the same day with the same question paper across the country, the managers of national education often seek not to classify the examinations as being public.
Whatever the case is, all these four examinations, at the end of the fifth year, the eighth year, the tenth year and the twelfth year, keep students busy enough not to do the actual learning. As results of such public examinations could create hype, give a sense of success, even falsely, and create competition among the students, their guardians and schools, learning competences largely remain ignored.
As soon as students finish jumping over a hurdle, another hurdle comes in sight, leaving little space, scope and time for them to learn. This has pushed the education system in the realm of learning by rote. Students cram their head and regurgitate what they have in their head on the answer scripts in the examinations hall. Once a hurdle is over, what has been crammed into the head is lost, almost for ever.
The philosophy of the education system needs to be changed, with a shift of focus from results onto competences. The curriculum board sets competences in goals, but the education boards assess how good the students are in rote learning. When the Learning Assessment Survey says that only 34 per cent of Class VIII students had the required competence in English, more than the percentage of students pass the public examinations with higher scores. So has been the case in other subjects all the time, with a higher pass percentage, the gap is only wider. It is results taking over competence, by the policy of national education.
As long as the pressure of public examinations on students cannot be eased, as long as the goal of the education system cannot be taken away from results onto competences and as long as the institutions cannot be armed up enough to ensure that students learn the competences that the curriculum aims at, it is highly unlikely that the situation would improve.

Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.