NEB indecisiveness keeps Nepal’s school students’ lives in peril, and it should end ASAP

During the epic war of Mahabharata, Arjun was advised by Lord Krishna, “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action.” Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty. How correct it is when we all welcomed the NEB’s decision to postpone the Grade 12 Exams on August 7, 2021. But, yes, the NEB did its duty without any expectations of reaping the fruit but with every passing moment, this decision has led to an unproportionate dilemma among the students throughout the country, who are more and more dismayed, restless and uncertain about the future of their academics along with their lives being in peril.

The adversity

And, yet again, the NEB is determined to impart its duties with much detachment that the exams to be conducted physically like in normal situations for three hours in a closed enclosure with the so-called health protocols in place, which is impossible to be followed as already proved. Once again quoting Lord Krishna, “You must always fulfil all your obligatory duties without attachment. By performing actions without attachment, one attains the highest.”

So highest be it – is the vaccination schemes for students of both grade 12 and bachelors are being conducted in full swing within the Kathmandu valley and the nation. But, the question remains – how about the high number of students who are below 18 years and are not eligible for Covid-19 vaccination?

But again, vaccinated people remain asymptomatic carriers of the virus, and the Delta variant is known for being carried around by vaccinated people, even when they do not infect the carrier him/herself. This puts the entire families of students at risk, and vaccination itself is not a guarantee that a person will not get infected with the virus. Secondly, and far more dangerously, Covid-19 cases are set to spike and reach a peak in September in India, our neighbour to the south with whom we, unfortunately, share a free border. Considering the fact that our country appears to be entering the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, its propensity and its magnitude are still uncertain. As of August 25, Nepal has administered 8,801,330 doses of Covid vaccines.

In such a situation, how long is the wait for the grade 12 examination for 374,000 students going to be? Hopefully, it is not going to be like Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.

The authority’s indecision

With the looming spike of Covid-19 and the overall time it takes to fully vaccinate a person with effectiveness, the academic careers of us students has been delayed once again. Our academic calendar is already four months behind the schedule for the second time in a row. Therefore, the question arises once again: why is this systematic chaos? Indecisiveness on part of the concerned authorities plagued the grade 12 students last year, and this year has been no different. Where is the lesson learnt from last year?

Apparently, nothing is learnt and no foresightedness can be seen on the part of the NEB! Indecisiveness and ambiguous notices have all served to confuse the students and not much else. A validated argument could be made for the situation last year, when every one of us was unsure how to act, still not habituated with the pandemic as it were. But, with a year already over, this situation should not have been repeated, and such repetition of irresolute decision-making shakes the very faith that students and the general populace have in the NEB. It is undoubtedly true that we are now living in abnormal times, and as such trying to push normal solutions for it is not and should not be an option. This current confusion that permeates throughout the ambiguity of grade 12 physical exams is both frustrating and confusing to the extreme for all the students and concerned parties involved.

It is extremely surprising that a sophisticated education board like the NEB is taking so long to come up with a proper solution in view of the safety of the students and their families. This has led to multiple speculations and questions regarding the lack of responsibility of the NEB to surface. Why is the NEB so uncertain and unsure about looking into alternative methods of evaluation for the grade 12 board exams? Why is this unnecessary systematic chaos being created in these already confusing times?

Learning from others and the self

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Countries like India, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the UK, have all cancelled their respective nation’s board exams and have conducted an evaluation based on previous results, and previous activities of the students. Our own government and the NEB conducted this measure for the evaluation of the SEE students during this pandemic. Not only is there a domestic guideline for internal evaluation, but now international guidelines for internal evaluation also exist.

Many have questioned the validity of an internal evaluation scheme, and some with legitimate concerns. Just a reminder, internal evaluation is not new to the NEB, considering 25 per cent of our grades in many subjects came from internal evaluation even during a normal situation. To take an example of the CBSE grade 12 internal evaluation, the board adjusted its evaluation based on previous scores of the students. Likewise, 30 per cent weightage was given to grade X marks, another 30 per cent weightage was given to grade XI marks and the remainder of the 40% weightage was given through the previous unit tests/terminal tests of the grade XII. A-level institutions also used predicted scores, and scores from their first year and from their sanctioned mock-exams to conduct their internal evaluation for their students. A weightage system for internal evaluation based on previous evaluations and assessments is a modality of evaluation that must be considered seriously.

Alternatively, online exams can be conducted. There are, of course, fears that the conductivity of online exams in Nepal is not possible. However, such fears can be allayed by the fact that 91% of Nepal does have access to the internet, which is a very strong argument in favour of online exams in the country. Recently, it was reported the Tribhuvan University is going to conduct its exams online in a subjective manner with the usage of the MS Team.  Strict guidelines such as the usage of cameras and voice recorders have been put into place to make sure that the online exams will remain legitimate. And, to remain fair as well, a short time period for internet disturbances has also been given to the students, which will be strictly observed.

Online exams were taken by Kathmandu University with great efficiency and legitimacy on the advent of Covid-19.  The questions were designed in such a manner that there was an extremely low chance of delegitimising the exams – with the aid and usage of critical and analytical questions. These are both models that, again, can and should be used for online exam modalities as a possible alternative. Again modalities like time-bound open book hybrid examination along with online interview/ viva voce as recently conducted by Pokhara University can be an option too.  Even innovative modalities like a final project work (like the one used in many scientific universities) or even hybrid modalities of internal evaluation and online exams are also other options that can and must be taken into account as well.

Refusing to accept real events within the nation and outside at this difficult time is nothing but the manifestation of weakness and imprudence. As Sigmund Freud says, “Out of your vulnerabilities comes your strength.” Difficult situations like these call for innovative and ingenious solutions, and the current situation certainly calls for it. If we do not try, where is the gain, where is the learning and where is the qualitative growth?

The NEB and the government of Nepal need to be definitely a bit more sensitive and a bit more compassionate while applying the rules that apply in normal situations to abnormal situations like Covid-19.  After all, what sense does it make to open the Pandora’s Box when you know what lies within – our health, our lives, the lives of our families and the concerned parties, our futures and dreams and aspirations – they all will be put in peril.