Sixteen-years-old Samir Shrestha is ecstatic for finally completing his SLC examinations, dubbed as the Iron Gate of school life. The months of toil before the exams have paid off and he has plenty of plans on his list which includes traveling and engaging in extracurricular activities. But amidst all his plans of fun and frolic, he lately has been having second thoughts regarding whether he should follow the trend of enrolling for advanced courses, popularly known as Bridge Courses, that ensure smooth transition from SLC to Plus Two, or +2.
Students have three months of leisure until the SLC results are announced. With a number of education consultancies and institutes offering bridge courses sprouting, there are many students like Shrestha who are facing the dilemma of whether such courses are worth pursuing or is just another way of wasting time and money.
Career planning is a crucial part of student life, and when at a threshold of beginning high school, there are tons of choices to make.
At Nepal International Educational Consultancy (NIEC), located at Putali Sadak, the number of students enrolling for bridge courses is increasing every day. Some want to study science or management while a few are getting admitted for language classes. But the story of all the students is similar. Most of them have come with a hope of getting accepted at reputed colleges of the capital.
Students consulting with counselors at an educational institution at Bagh Bazar about courses offered for recent SLC examinees awaiting their results.
Students have the options of choosing between science, management or humanities after SLC, introducing them to a new set of curriculum. At NIEC, various bridge courses are offered and the curriculum for students preferring science stream includes subjects like physics, chemistry, biology, zoology while accounts, mathematics and English are offered for students preferring management stream.
According to Pramila Shakya, student advisor at NIEC, there’s a huge gap when it comes to the curriculum of SLC and +2.
“During SLC, many students have the habit of mugging up answers and when they get admitted for Plus Two, they have no idea about what the courses are like. So Bridge Courses help in preparing them for the upcoming challenges,” she says.
Shakya stresses that the education of grade ten wouldn’t suffice to be eligible to get through the entrance examinations of Plus Two. “So, to utilize the time and gain some knowledge, Bridge Courses play pivotal roles,” she says.
Another institute, Alpha Beta Institute at Buddha Nagar, even offers a separate course just for the entrance preparation for Plus Two in the Science Faculty of St. Xavier’s College at Maitighar.
“There are only 504 seats when 10,000 students apply for the same college. The competition is tough, which is why we have opened an advanced science course to cater to the requirement,” says Shristy Karki, student advisor of Alpha Beta.
Karki informs that the syllabus of the courses is prepared by teachers based on the curriculum of Plus Two.
With a plethora of hoarding boards and advertisements claiming guaranteed admissions to reputed colleges showing up in the busy streets of Kathmandu, some education experts differ on the idea offered by bridge courses.
BN Sharma, Academic Advisor to the Private and Boarding School’s Organization, Nepal (PABSON) Central Committee is of the opinion that though bridge courses are highly important and valuable for students, especially for those who are preparing for their further studies overseas, the downside however is that it has lately become a custom to take such courses, especially in Kathmandu, just to get through the heavy competitions for good colleges.
“Getting enrolled in a good college is always a dream of any student. This is how it is and how it began as a practice. But the sorry state is the expensiveness and commercial trend of taking such courses merely to have a show time. This is why it’s very hard to decide which institute is the best for a person,” says Sharma who is also the President of Peace Education Network Nepal, an NGO that works in coordinating educational activities among children and youth.
He explains that good students who have Internet access and who are proactive can do well even without these courses.
He however believes that many students who come from outside Kathmandu Valley need to adjust to the capital’s education culture and these courses have helped to some extent. But students are mostly driven by the crowds and find out that the courses have not helped them after they join the college. This is when the sorry part appears as there is wastage of time, energy and money.
“Many believe that there are connections of such institutes with good colleges and this could be a backdoor for admission,” he says and adds that since teachers from colleges are working as instructors at these institutes to lure students by various means, professionalism in this field is limited as the whole purpose of the bridge courses becomes just to find success in admission tests and nothing beyond.
He suggests that high school curriculum and courses have to be linked from grade nine to twelve immediately, and grade twelve should be made as SLC which will naturally reduce the mushrooming of these commercial institutes.
Supporting Sharma’s opinion, Bidya Nath Koirala, Coordinator of M Phil in Education at Tribhuvan University, believes that some students have the ability to grasp what is being taught easily while some are slow learners. Considering this fact, he explains that the courses offered by bridge courses are technically wrong as it is conducted for around three months only which isn’t adequate to bridge the gap.
“The courses should be made modular, and if the entire courses can be taught by just giving a clue, it doesn’t justify taking the time and money of the students,” he says.
The bridge courses usually costs Rs 6,000 and above, so Koirala says that students who don’t come from city areas and from poor economic background can’t even afford to take such courses.
He also states that many students of the previous batches who have taken bridge courses complained that the courses basically comprised what they had learnt in grade ten.
“The tradition of offering students with what has already been taught to them in schools is found in most of the institutes. The courses are not that advanced, and if the intention is to hone the learning skills of students, then it is necessary to provide individual treatment,” he says. “Some institutes even have a connection with colleges where, depending on average and excellent students, they set separate seats for the students. So, it’s not fair to mislead students in such ways,” he adds.
He explains that it is always better for students to learn new things rather than waste time being idle. But what knowledge they are receiving should be justified.
Jay Ram Khanal, Director of Himalayan White House International College, says that the basic idea of bridge courses is to explain students the curriculum of Plus Two but it is very important to monitor the curriculum of those courses.
“There’s a limitation of how much students can learn, so it’s not healthy if students are overfed with information. So there should be consistency and creativity in the way students are taught so that they are well prepared,” he says.
The institutes that run bridge courses are monitored by the District Education Office and if there are any cases of mismanagement, it is reported to the Ministry of Education (MoE).
“Such courses are supposed to set a foundation for students. So it’s important that it isn’t run in the name of a lucrative business,” says Roj Nath Pandey, Under Secretary at the MoE. He, however, confirms that they haven’t received any complaints as such about how the institutes offering bridge courses are functioning.
It has almost been a week since bridge courses for fresh SLC-appeared students started at Nims Institute in Bag Bazaar. Ram Chandra Gautam, coordinator at Nims, informs that last year alone, around 800 students got enrolled for various courses.
Similar to many other bridge course institutes, the classes are comprised of four periods and exams are taken everyday. Gautam informs that the idea is to encourage the students to actively participate in the class and evaluate ideas that they have grasped.
The institutes even offer bridge courses for staff nurses, health assistants, lab technicians, dental assistants, overseers and lab radiography which explain the growing number of students getting admitted.
With the perks of full scholarships provided to excellent students, such institutes mostly promise and lure students with assurances to get them into reputed colleges. Most education experts believe that students should realize what courses they want to study and should pursue such courses only when they are aware that the curriculum offered is valid for their future studies and overall development.
Source; This article was initially published in Republica National daily on April 5, 2013