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     Volume 4 Issue 3 | July 9, 2004 |


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Cover Story

Much Ado about
Pass Rate

Shamim Ahsan

This year's SSC results have come as a pleasant surprise to most. One reason certainly has been the refreshing break from the past records. The ever-deteriorating percentage rate in the last 5 or 6 years which sank to 26% last year takes a flip this year. So, many felt relieved as they saw this year's reasonably healthy pass rate of almost 50%, the best in the last 30 years. The feel-good factor has been, to a great extent, created and fanned by the government, which promptly been interpreted as a great achievement. Percentage-wise the SSC results are certainly an achievement.

In the last couple of years cheating in the public examinations became the focus of the concerned authorities as well as the media. The education ministry seems to have oriented its efforts solely around this issue. In his desperate attempt to make an impression to change the country's deplorable standard of education, Ehsanul Haque Milon, the state minister of education, declared a jihad of sorts against cheating during examinations. He was somehow convinced that the main obstacles or rather the principal reason for today's declining education standard is cheating. His mission of eradicating cheating resulted in some improvement in the last examinations, the number of expelled cases is a proof of this. The 50 percent pass rate is being claimed as a direct consequence of stringent anti-cheating measures. Though this claim seems convincing, and no doubt, there is some truth in it, somehow it veils the true scenario of the education sector. To claim the healthy percentage as a great uplift and a step towards recovering from the poor state of education, is in no way true.

To put it as clearly as possible: Cheating in the examinations is not the main problem as far as the quality of education is concerned. The eradication of this malady is not going to cure our diseased education system, as the government would have us believe. Cheating is not the cause but only one of the many effects or manifestations of the real problems that have been plaguing our entire education system for years. The absence of a prudent national education policy has turned our education into a discordant admixture of various unrelated and often irrelevant sub-systems. Whereas we should have a uniform education system in the primary and secondary levels, there exist three almost altogether different streams as that of Bangla medium, English medium and madrasa-based education system. Consequently, the system has been producing three different generations with entirely different sets of value, culture and tradition.

Many who are directly associated with SSC level education have hailed this year’s results. Pass rate is certainly one yardstick for judging the state of education," believes Rowena, Principal of Viqurunnesa Noon School and College. If you compare this year's percentage with that of the past years’ you will have to say this is an improvement. She then quickly refers to the total number of SSC candidates, which she says about a lakh less than that of last year's. The government circular asking school authorities to screen the weaker candidates through test exams and not to allow them to sit for the final has brought down the number of failed students and has also positively affected the results.

Then, of course, the much- hyped anti-cheating campaign led by the State Minister, has also contributed to this healthy pass rate to a certain extent. Abul Hashanat Faruk, Headmaster of Government Laboratory School, which bagged 148 Grade Point Average-5 and figured among the five top schools in terms of highest GPA score-makers, thanks to the government effort for curbing cheating that helped improve the situation. The State Minister’s inspection spree in examination centres across the country in the last two years has certainly helped screen the students with the habit of cheating and made this year's dramatic increase in pass rate possible.

Both however emphasised that if such encouraging pass rates are to be maintained or even a higher rate is to be achieved the government will have to make sure that the stringent measures it has initiated do not slacken. But, amidst the hype and celebration one should not lose sight of the complete picture. The number of schools with 100 percent failure still stands at 537. It has come down from 1400 to 537 this year, it certainly is an improvement. Yet, when we take the whole system into account, the number of schools from where not a single candidate made it to the list of the much hyped 50 percent, still stands before us like a rampart. "The government should not only cancel MPOs (monthly pay orders) to those schools, but also warn those which have less than 5% or 10% pass rates," Faruk suggests. Rowena advocates for regular inspection into both government and private schools to ensure that the teachers are attending classes regularly, following the lesson plan. And she thinks that the management activities need to be monitored as well. "We have even come to know of schools which have no students at all. And, during inspection the school authority hires students from the neighbouring schools to show off. A certain quarter of goverment education officials is associated with this corrupt practice," she adds.

While both of them referred to this year's comparatively higher percentage in SSC a good sign, there is no reason to think our overall education system has started to recover or is even back on the right track. "Stopping cheating in the examinations is necessary, but there has to be simultaneous efforts on the part of the government to take on many other pertinent steps to refurbish the entire education system to attain a consistent improvement," Faruk believes.

Both of them identify the lack of well-trained, competent teachers as one of the main troubles that are holding our education system in stagnation. Especially the need of capable English teachers, particularly in schools outside the cities, is acute. The quality of teaching has suffered for so long, that the sudden increase in the percentage of successful students, in the end, does not amount to much. The problem of having competent teaching bodies is all-pervading, it is not limited to the subject of English only. The system of Bangla medium lacks teachers who have specialised in a particular subject, as the recruits mostly consist of general graduates. The teachers are made to teach multiple subjects, a practice that affects the overall quality of education.

As the failure rate is highest in English, the government should immediately take up steps to train up the existing and new English teachers. As for the other subjects like maths and science, there should also be measures to improve the quality of the teaching staff.

Many other basic pertinent problems like the absence of healthy infrastructure, faulty, corrupt teachers recruitment method would have to be addressed; widespread corruption in both school management as well as on the government education officials level are issues that need to be tackled with firmness. Besides, while making policy decision regarding primary and secondary education the government should involve the classroom teachers. The different committees the government form for such purposes are usually constituted with scholars, and college and university teachers who do not have any practical experience of classroom situation. The relevent teachers should be a part of the process while designing the syllabus, methodology and teaching materials along with academicians to make them realistic and effective," Faruk points out. He also believes that the headmasters should be in the teachers' recruitment panels, as they should be knowing well the kind of problems teachers face in the classrooms.

These problems aside, some basic questions concerning our education system have to be given attention. Even after 33 years since our independence we have been going by the education system worked out and imposed on us during two consecutive rules of the British and then the Pakistani occupiers. There are different streams at the primary level -- there are some 11 types of primary schools in the country. "The difference among the Kindergarten, government, non-governemnt and madrasa-based educational institutions on the primary level only widens at the secondary level. And this has turned our education sector into a seemingly irredeemable chaos," points out Akmal Hossain, a professor in Dhaka University (DU).

"While speaking in the seminars everyone advocates a uniform primary education system, but when it comes to working out an educational policy we suddenly want to keep the existing discriminatory education system going", points out Hossain referring to the most recent education policy headed by ex-DU Vice Chancellor Moniruzzaman Mian. Though there have been some changes in the syllabi, especially in the secondary level text books, they are mostly hurriedly done and ill-planned, thus, fail to bring about the intended positive changes. "How could you suddenly switch over from grammar and translation-based language learning to communicative method when you are working with the same English teachers who are neither familiar with the method nor have received any training to put it into practice," Hossain argues. Besides, we have this tendency of toying with the class-9 and class-10 text books while forgetting that we are dealing with the same students who have come through a different way of learning during their first eight years of schooling.

Primary and secondary level studies are still largely based on rote learning and students in this system gradually become dependent on private tutors. "The greatest weakness of the system is that most of the so-called good students achieve good results if they can memorise a bundle of things. So, in the end, it all boils down to one thing, which is to taking recourse to private tutoring. "Good results are the fruit of the parents' financial ability to back their children with a regular contingent of private tutors," Hossain asserts. The system does not encourage anything other than rote learning, it hardly takes into account the growth of the intellectual faculty, let alone creativity. Rather it tends to limit the intellectual faculty. "Where would one get the stimulation or inspiration to exercise creativity when one can do very good following a very streamlined method hinged upon lists of suggestions for exams and guide books?" he asks.

Quality education has become an exclusive property of the city-dweller, says Hossain. "If someone living in a village achieves good result, which happens very rarely, all of us get surprised, because we have long stopped expecting a student living in a village or even in a provincial town to figure among top ranking students. Our first priority should be a uniformed, singular, primary education system, which would be all-inclusive, irrespective of the students' financial capability or the place they live in," Hossain says.

Rejoicing over this year's 50% pass rate will not take us anywhere if we fail to bring in qualitative improvement of our unhealthy, poor, and almost dysfunctional education system.

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