PEC and JSC exam feats: The flip side  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: December 31, 2018 22:07:06


The impressive performance of female students in the school-level JSC and PEC examinations this year is no doubt heartening. The results have once again showed the girls' steady march in education in the country. This is but a single aspect of the results of the JSC (Junior School Certificate) and PEC (Primary Education Completion), and equivalent examinations. There is also an unpalatable side to the overall results of the exams. It comes in a fall in the number of GPA 5 achievers in the JSC examination. The education authorities have cited the step of abolishing the 4th subject in the syllabus for the decline in GPA 5 achievers. They have said it is the generous marks coming from this subject that elevate many an average and below average student to the level of GPA (grade point average) 5 exclusiveness. Besides the 4th subject, seven other subjects have also been dropped from the syllabus.

The education and primary education authorities have reasons to feel elated to see a rise in the pass rate of the PEC examination. As the results have shown, the pass rate this year has risen to 97.59  per cent, with the increase by 2.41 percentage points from that of last year. In that year, the rate was 95.81 per cent. More or less a similar picture has been found in all the eight divisions. Dhaka tops the list with a pass rate of 98.25 per cent in the PEC exams. It makes one happy that all the administrative divisions have come up with improved pass rates. The GPA 5 achievers have also seen a general rise in number.

To echo the Education Minister, a lot of initiatives are under way aimed at reforming education. That these reforms are set to begin from the primary level is obvious. Given the increased school enrolment, and the declining dropout rates, time-befitting programmes will take the country's school-level education to greater highs. There are few spaces for doubting the authorities' seriousness of intent. What mar the whole optimism-filled episode are some digressive formalities. Those began with the introduction of special final examinations at the end of Class 5 and Class 8 under the names of PEC and JSC. They were largely modelled on the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations. In principle, a country's education system can have pre-secondary examinations like the two now in place. When Bangladesh introduced these two exams, there was few murmuring. On the contrary, the prospect of being awarded certificates after passing the exams delighted the students and parents. It was seen remarkably in the rural areas. In reality, in the continuation of the school studies further, these certificates carried no special value. The only difference was they replaced the class final certificates. In the job market these certificates could not make much of an impact.

A JSC exam certificate has little value in today's Bangladesh society, not to speak of the one of PEC. Then there must be a magic in the two certificates that cast a spell on the students as well as their guardians. Speaking plainly, it is the elite stamp of GPA 5 which has made these two examinations so distinctive and vital. Ironically, there are few precedents which show that these exams could add to the educational quality and potential of a village-based student. But what's amazing is it is the rural area which is found engaged in festivities over the GPA 5 bonanza. This year's increase in PEC exam's GPA 5 achievers and decline in the ones of JSC is expected to result in mixed responses. By not being able to score a GPA 5, many students passing JSC might feel discouraged to remain serious in their studies.

Notwithstanding the government's claim to the credit for introducing a modern method of final examinations at primary and junior-school levels, the very notion of GPA has eventually emerged ritualistic. The country's education experts have dubbed it a mere exercise in futility. It has neither improved the quality of education at primary and junior-school levels, nor did it assure the students of faring better in the higher classes. To speak tersely, the frenzy over scoring GPA 5 has actually led to a decline in the teaching and learning quality and the adoption of short-cut methods to achieve the much-sought-after high grade point. In tandem with the trend, coaching centres for the exams mushroomed across the country. Most of them assured students and their parents of the magic wand of GPA 5. Uncannily, the assurance came true for a large number of students.

Seeing the mad rush for getting a GPA 5 in public examinations at lower school level, the education ministry and the related authorities finally thought it was time to rein in the fever. It resulted in the fall in the number of JSC GPA 5 achievers this year. Education experts view the step as one inordinately belated; mostly because as the average number of students had been focused on tailor-made exam preparations, with the eye on the 'sure success' GPA 5, they remained far from thorough studies needed for doing better in the examinations. Although poor performance at primary and junior school exams doesn't normally have a remarkable impact on the students' careers, they do inject doses of frustration and aversion for studies into the students.

The thinning out of GPA 5 achievers in the SSC examinations has experienced a similar spectacle. According to educationists, the concept of judging the students' academic excellence through grade point average is pragmatic and free of many biases. But thanks to the euphoric response prompted by it, and the near-hysteric urge to avail of the higher grading, the new system had gone haywire. Many might now raise the question: then what was wrong with the traditional marking system? In spite of the steady rise in the pass rate, students at the completion of Class 5 and Class 8 ought to have been kept free of the splurge of the higher grade point average. The fallout of the SSC GPA 5 deluge has already demonstrated the system's flip side.     

 shihabskr@ymail.com

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