The recent Secondary Education Examination (SEE) results have sent shockwaves through Nepal’s education system, highlighting severe shortcomings that demand urgent attention.

Out of 467,000 students who participated, an alarming 242,313 have been categorized as Not Graded (NG) – 47.86% have passed where 52.14% are not graded. With an additional 21,000 students taking grade increment exams, these figures underscore a grim reality. This is not an isolated incident but part of a troubling trend. In 2023, only 50.91 percent of candidates passed the grade 12 examinations, mirroring the previous year’s results.

A shocking number of students failed in key subjects: 177,985 in mathematics, 126,933 in science, and 113,383 in English. The crisis extends to social studies and economics, where 73,877 and 69,532 students, respectively, have failed. This is particularly concerning as academic progression is instrumental to forge careers in Nepal – including, but not limited to the public sector.

These examination outcomes are more than just statistics; they reflect deeper systemic issues. SEE and grade 12 examinations are significant milestones in Nepali education, yet the high failure rates suggest a disconnect between the curriculum, teaching methods, and students’ comprehension. SEE was conducted from March 28 to April 9, 2080 BS, and the results was according to the Letter Grading Directive 2078 BS. According to this system, students must score at least 35 out of 100 in theory for each subject to qualify for higher studies. Those scoring below 35 are placed in the non-graded category but can retake up to two subjects three times. This was the first adaptation of this system in SEE examination; however, it was adapted in grade 11 and 12 examinations previously. The government this year decided to allow all students to take supplementary examinations, regardless of how many subjects they had failed. This was a good aim towards inclusivity, but yet again, attempts at inclusivity without understanding the complicated intersectionality of socio-political issues pertaining education was bound to be a failure. On the government’s part, it seems it wanted to improve its results by helping students pass.

Political and governmental instability exacerbates these issues. Speaking at a program, KP Sharma Oli announced free online classes for students who are not graded, claiming “skilled teachers from Kathmandu” would provide quality education. However, this raises critical questions such as why are “good teachers” based only in Kathmandu, it also begs the question if it is necessary to fail the exam to receive quality education? Why is there a disparity between the education that led to failure and the education now being offered? Is the new-to-be former Prime Minister asking all citizens to accept the inequal conditions of the nation?

Oli attributed the poor results to inadequate teaching, while Education Minister Sumana Shrestha countered, suggesting that political interference hinders educational reforms. This blame game does little to address the root causes of the failures. If the issue lies with individual teachers, what measures are being implemented to improve teaching quality? If the problem is systemic, what structural changes are necessary to ensure consistent quality education for all students?

These disappointing results have broader socio-economic implications. Take for example the disparity in results within the private sector and the public sector. Isn’t that a telling sign? Of course, politicians will play politics, including the new faces who will blame teacher’s alleged political affiliations. But this just shows that if old politicians were disinterested, the new politicians are alienated from the socio-political conditions of the country. Have they, or any politician considered the intersectionality of gender and class within the public education system? For example, what is the failure rate within the genders in public schools? Similarly, did a public school in Lalitpur district perform equally as one in say, Bajhang or Mahottari?

Finally, what does the failure rate mean for Nepal’s growing inequality? It simply means those with higher access to educational resources will continue to dominate the professional space and improve their next generations’ lives. Meanwhile, those failing due to sociopolitical conditions remain in an inescapable circle of inequality. Over generations, the inequality increases unless any Minister for Education makes sustainable political interventions in the public education sector.

Dr. Bidhyanath Koirala’s perspective adds another dimension to the discussion. Speaking to Aawaaj News a few months back on another education related article, “He argued for recognizing students’ unique abilities over grades and calls for an updated curriculum and a more flexible education system. Assessing knowledge based solely on credit hours is inadequate for modern workforce demands.” His argument remains relevant today and may continue to be so in the future. So, when is this change going to happen?

SEE results should serve as a wake-up call rather than a mere statistic. They highlight the urgent need for comprehensive educational reforms. Will we implement meaningful changes to address the systemic issues, or will we continue to apply superficial solutions? Is this ” A failure or a reality check?”