BCSEA has issued a circular regarding the ‘trend’ in many of the higher secondary schools of skipping the teaching of class XI syllabi  in the quest to ‘excel’ in the BHSEC XII exams.

The circular states that the class XI syllabus is an ‘indispensable’ foundation not only for class XI but also for further studies. While it may be possible to ‘drill’ the students to perform well without actually covering the full syllabus, the lack of an in-depth understanding would pose the students a serious handicap in their future learning. The circular also refers to the numerous reports of how many of the Bhutanese class XII graduates are unable to do well in college.

The circular criticizes this ‘exam-centric’ approach as being at odds with ‘true learning’.

These are valid observations and the sooner corrections are made the better. But are we waking up rather late? And aren’t these observations also at odds with a lot of other practices in our system?

The practice of skipping class XI syllabus to give almost 2 years to cover just the class XII syllabus has been going on for a long time. The observation that class XII science graduates have been suffering in college is not new. Many such batches have long graduated from college.

The problem is that while most of us are keen on having ‘tue learning’,  nobody is trying to measure it. Instead, we are all too ready to measure the more measurable numbers like pass percentages and median scores. And then we go on to reward or praise those schools with the best pass percentages and toppers.

So then is it any surprise that many of the middle and higher secondary schools have adopted the path of excelling in the areas that are measured?

The management platitude  ‘what gets measured gets managed’ is highly vulnerable to the problem of spurious measurements.

Recently the Ministry of Education released their table of the ‘best schools’ in Bhutan. At best, the most objective data used in the evaluation were the exam results. The evaluation was diluted by two other highly subjective parameters (self assessment & plans for improvement). Somehow, we were then led to conclude that the ‘best’ schools listed in the tables were the result of some objective analysis of valid measurements.

The media announces this result, which many find questionable, to the rest of the public and further encourages schools to forego the path to ‘true learning’.

The members of the public already have less than stellar methods of measuring ‘quality’ in schools. Their best source of information is usually their yappy neighbour, or any person happening to pass by. When it comes to data, the only salient bits they look at are the pass percentage in the board exam, or which topper graduated from which school. There seems to be the undying notion that a weak student joining a school where a topper happened to study the year before would somehow magically imbibe that topper’s interest in academics or study habits.

So again, is it any surprise that schools try to achieve 100% pass results and woo potential toppers to join their student body? Clearly, what gets measured gets managed.

There is no doubt that schools should do as directed by BCSEA. But on a practical dimension, will they? BCSEA did not deal directly with the schools, opting instead to go through the thromde or dzongkhag offices. How do they plan to enforce their requirement? If they cannot, it will be obvious very quickly.

Will schools give up their easy path to positive assessments if the other schools do not follow suit? Who will take the first step?

The first step should perhaps be to improve the approach to measurements so that schools are encouraged to focus on what is really important. They should drop this whole idea of ‘best school’. There really is no such thing. Education covers a wide range of goals from exam results and actual learning in the classroom, to leadership or sports or debating skills outside. It also includes learning to become a better citizen and many more. How does all of this get meaningfully combined in a single score? It does not.

Instead, there should probably be a number of awards from ‘best in academics’ to ‘best in sports’ to ‘best in extra-curricular activities’ such as debating, elocution, quiz, cooking contests etc.

They need to drop highly subjective factors such as ‘school self assessments’ or ‘plans for improvement’. If the school’s evaluation is made on the plan itself and not the final outcome, then there is no incentive to even put these plans to action. The reward has already been reaped.

So the real challenge seems to be for there to be a better definition or definitions of ‘quality’ and better measures put in place. When this has been better solved, the schools will automatically comply.

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