Iron Gate Psychosis

Seven teenage girls committed suicide in Nepal, in a span of a few days, during the week gone by. Normally it should not cause an alarm in a country where suicide rate is nearly seven per thousand people per annum. In fact, a study on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity of Nepali women of reproductive age (15-49 years) found that suicide as the single leading cause of death among women of that age group in the country.

The study was done in 2008/09, covered a total population of 3,298,319 and was carried out in 8 districts—Baglung, Jumla, Kailali; Okhaldhunga, Rupandehi, Rasuwa, Sunsari and Surkhet. All that, when suicide is not even in the top 10 causes of death worldwide. In such a situation, does the first line of this column demand attention?

Of course, yes: for both the reasons that suicide rates have increased in Nepal and for the case of these seven girls taking their lives. These girls took their own lives because they failed in SLC exams. Giving up your life after failing in just one exam? Yes, the so called Iron Gate!

How is it fair that a life – or so many, over the years – is lost for failing one academic exam? But if we try to remember our own ordeal during these exams – when we faced it in our times – and analyze the hype surrounding this particular exam, we know for real that the young minds are pushed to the hilt during the exams and are in a state where the entire universe rotates around the word: SLC.

When more than 50 percent students do not cross the barrier, there has to be something wrong with the barrier itself. The government’s job is to be fair to everyone; and everyone means the ones from the remotest area of the country standing on the same platform as that of the students from the most expensive school in the capital. Of course this is a competition, but it’s not Olympics where only the podium finishers are glorified.

A female friend had told yours truly that her menstrual cycle was disturbed due to stress during SLC exams, years ago. She said, she was not the only one. One of her friends got a stress diarrhea during the exams, which caused her to be hospitalized and miss the exam. Most girls have the pressure of passing the exam or being married off – after being termed as good-for-nothing. There is a pressure not only to pass, but to pass with a good grade, to get into a good school for 10+2. One cannot forget that the exams are same for all, whether you studied in an english medium school of the capital or a community school of Bajura, where even English is taught in Nepali. Majority of students are made to feel that you are a failure in life if you don’t cross this hurdle. All this at the age of 16 or thereabouts; at an age where you should be allowed to dream; at an age where you should be rendered fearless…

The burden of expectation buries them down. As a result, they lose power of concentration, continue to remain fearful, get confused during the studies and lose confidence in themselves. Not a sign of healthy citizen in future.

SLC, for all what it is, is overhyped. It might have been the most important examination in 1971, but 40 years later, all who have passed this stage know that there are more important exams to face later. But we have created a psychological barrier around it.

One thing almost everyone, yes everyone – including the government – agrees is that the education system is flawed. Just after the results, Education Secretary went public saying amendment in the Education Act is a must. In the heat of only 47 percent passing the exams, those related to the field demanded change. No doubt, change is a must. After all, the present education act was prepared in 1971 and is still in practice. Many countries have had a regime change in these many years, forget change in one sector.

The Finance Minister, Barsa Man Pun, was not a happy man either, due to low pass rate. His concern: this result has come despite allocating Rs 64 billion for education. It’s not a fair return on investment. But the problem is not in return on investment but how are we investing the money.

The system may be changed. It will require some effort. But the best change we could start is by stopping to call it an Iron Gate. After all, it is just another exam.

(PS: This write-up appeared in The Kantipur Times – a fortnightly published from Australia – on 22nd June, 2012)

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