Making educational advancements


Binod Ghimire

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Over half a million students sat for the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations this year. While some may have planned out their career, it is more likely that most of them are yet to decide on what they want to do in their lives. With many alternatives for a post-SLC degree now emerging, students and parents find themselves confused over what is the best and most suitable option for them.

SLC graduates often tend to join +2 programmes, affiliated to the Higher Secondary Education Board, or take technical subjects under the Centre for Technical Education and Vocational Training, but most students who want an international pre-university education have the option of pursuing the General Certificate in Education Advanced Levels (GCE A Levels) or the International Baccalaureate (IB).

The credit of starting the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) affiliated GCE A Levels goes to Budhanilkantha school which began offering the programme in 1985. Although the A Level programme has long existed in the awareness of Nepalis, it wasn’t accessible to all, limited as it was to Budhanilkantha for over a decade. The diploma became more widely available in the early 2000s when a handful of private schools started offering it to their students.

What was initially adopted keeping in mind children of expatriates has now become a popular choice of post-SLC diploma for Nepal’s middle class. Many educationists have chosen it as the higher secondary level degree for their schools in order to provide a strong pre-university foundation for their students. In the last decade, the number of institutions offering A Levels has gone up to 40, with some dozen more waiting for permission from the Ministry of Education. The degree, which was earlier confined to schools in Kathmandu, is now available in Pokhara, Chitwan and Biratnagar as well.

“People have begun to understand that the A Levels is the most rigorous programme that delivers high academic standards and it’s becoming increasingly popular outside the Capital,” said Nabin Man Shrestha, chairperson of the Cambridge Educators Association Nepal and principal of AJW College.  Although the A Levels are comparatively more expensive to undertake, students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds can also avail of the 10 percent scholarship quota allocated as per government rules. Currently, over 150 students of a total of around 1,500 pursuing their A Levels have been doing so under scholarship programmes.

“We offer higher scholarships to students based on their financial abilities and strength in academics,” said Sudhir Jha, founding chairman at Chelsea International College.

The CIE A Levels are internationally benchmarked qualifications that provide an excellent preparation for university education. They are taken in around 190 countries and offer a choice of about 70 different subjects. The culminating certificate is one of the most internationally recognised qualifications at the higher secondary level.

“While our local higher secondary school curriculum promotes memorising, the A Levels courses are knowledge-based and more pragmatic,” said Susma Sapkota, programme coordinator at Global College International.

Educators claim that the programme emphasises critical thinking and reasoning abilities. Additionally, A Levels teachers are trained and updated every year. The CIE also provides training for teachers twice a year. Taught in over 6,000 colleges across the globe, the programme is updated regularly to maintain its relevance—which is also the most effective part of the curriculum. Students in most institutions in Nepal are required to take three full credit subjects along with a half credit language course or General Paper.

The examinations are held in May/June and October/November and results are published within eight weeks. Those students who are not satisfied with their grades can keep taking exams until they get better results..

“The opportunity of credit transfer is another strong reason why students prefer the programme,” said Gopal Bhandari, principal at Xavier International College. “Students who complete a year in Nepal can go to any other country and complete the course.”

The desire to go abroad for further studies provides a strong incentive for students to choose A Levels. Completing the degree with good grades increases their chances of getting into top universities around the world along with scholarships. Institutions also value the prestige that comes along with being affiliated to a world renowned institution such as the University of Cambridge and they take pride in offering international standard education in Nepal.

Though the demand for good quality higher secondary education in Nepal is currently being met by international courses such as A Level, it is not accessible to students from all economic backgrounds. The two-year course can cost from Rs 300,000 to Rs 7,000,000, while an additional Rs 6,000 has to be paid per subject as the examination fee.

“The fee imposed by CIE itself is high and we cannot decrease it even if we wish to,” said Nawaraj Acharya, chief at Lumbini International College. “However, this cost is very little compared to other countries.”

Source; The Kathmandu Post