The pass rate (66.64) of this year's Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations is 11-year low, screamed newspapers in their July 20 issue headlines. In fact, the rate is slightly up by a few basis points from that of 2007. The number of students securing GPA-5 has also declined substantially this year.
The HSC exam pass rate first jumped by more than 10 percentage points for the first time in 2008 and hovered between 70 per cent and 76.5 per cent until 2014 and dropped by nearly 10 percentage point in 2015. But in 2016 the rate again increased to 72.47 per cent only to decline again in 2017.
English and ICT question papers have been blamed for the abrupt fall in this year's pass rate. English is one subject that is considered the number one hurdle by many students appearing in all public examinations. Yet the pass rates were high between 2008 and 2015.
There must be something else that has been playing a role in determining the pass rate, particularly in secondary and higher secondary level public examinations in recent years.
Some people tend to suspect that the pass rate is dependent on the secret instruction coming from some powerful quarters to evaluate the examination scripts either in relaxed or fair manner. Whether the suspicion has any basis or not is difficult to determine; the allegation may or may not be true.
If anyone in the administration does have any impression that higher pass rates, without fulfilling certain conditions, add to the credibility of the government, then he or she is mistaken. It, actually, does the opposite.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid has reportedly said they are now laying emphasis on the quality of education. This statement does lead one to believe that the government was not serious in the previous years about the quality issue.
However, the frequent leaks of question papers and relevant other developments made some people to believe that the administration was interested to ensure higher pass rates in public examinations in primary, secondary and higher secondary levels, by any means n-- fair or foul.
If the decline in pass rate and in the number of GPA-5 recipients was due to measures taken to stop leaks of question papers and to stay away from any type of interference in examination scripts' evaluation, the education ministry deserves appreciation.
The unsavoury developments surrounding secondary and higher secondary education have not anyway helped the policymakers achieve the goal of producing properly educated manpower that is necessary to lead the nation towards peace and prosperity. Higher pass rate and high scores in subjects do not ensure quality education.
If all these 'highs' are ensured taking recourse to foul means, there should be no reason to believe that students have got quality education. These students even on completion of their higher education would have little to contribute to the broader national objectives.
Questions have been aplenty about the quality of education notwithstanding the fact that the government has tried too many things to improve the same over the years. But the fact remains the quality, instead of improving, has deteriorated further.
What is, thus, important now is the improvement of the quality of education. Better results in examinations of all types are also necessary. Poor pass rates do leave behind psychological scars and economic hardship for many families. So, greater success rate in public examinations is necessary.
The first and foremost factor needed for ensuring quality education is engaging competent people in the profession of teaching. Teachers should be capable of imparting quality education to students. There is a serious dearth of such teachers in the country. Not many competent people are interested to take up teaching as their profession at the primary, secondary, and higher secondary levels since the financial benefits usually given to them are highly inadequate to make a decent living. The recent street agitation by the secondary level teachers for their inclusion in the MPO (monthly pay order) system does amply highlight the level of financial insecurity of teachers.
Besides, qualified teachers alone would not do. There has to be right type of education for every stratum of education. Since independence, successive governments have carried out one experiment too many with education curricula. But the right one, possibly, is still eluding all.
Moreover, the policymakers must decide now what the students should learn. Subjects to be taught, starting from HSC and above, should be selected according to the national requirement. Students would also have to appear at aptitude tests while choosing subjects for their higher education. Educational institutions that have been churning out scores of generalists every year are doing more disservice than any good to the country. There has to be an end to it. Education must be need-based.
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