A Grade Below the Mark: Is CBSE Grading System a Step in the Right Direction?

Posted on July 1, 2010 in Learning+

Shruthi Venukumar:

It was touted as a paradigm shift from the stagnant over-bearing marking system we had in place. Spurred on by the spate of exam tension-related suicides in the country, the education minister, backed by anxious parents, put in place a system of grades as a method of matriculation evaluation. The reaction that followed was like ice-cream over hot coffee. Some quarters burst with jubilation while others called it a defilement of merit. Some argued that the new system would not only wipe off exam-related stress from students’ minds but also the killer competitive edge required to topple academic records and touch new heights of stellar excellence. That it would also be the fountain of dejection for those in the top bracket was made clear to me when on the morning of 28th May, 2010, I found a girl sitting in her verandah, lips downturned.

“Key Karuna! Where are my sweets?” I cried in a voice of joy and anticipation.

She looked up, her lips did not.

“I’m very disappointed,” she said in an affected intonation.

“What’s your CGPA?”

“9.8,” said she, her tears almost on the verge of brimming over. At this moment, from the look on her face, it seemed as if the most damaging disaster had struck her. “I don’t know where I went wrong Didi. I was so sure of getting a perfect 10.”

“What’s your individual GP?”

“Science -10, Maths — 10, English -10, S.St. — 10 and…” she whimpered, “Hindi — 9,” she rattled off, the whimpers notwithstanding.

My mind went into a calculation overdrive. The cumulative average sat at 9.8 like she said.

“Oh sweetheart! Congratulations! You scored a perfect 10 in almost all subjects…” I dropped short in my sentence. She did not share my jubilation. “That bumbling Mahi got a perfect 10.” Oh! So that’s what this is about.

“You have greater opportunities ahead sweetheart. Mark my words, in no time at all, you’re gonna scale a greater mountain than her,” I comforted.

She looked at me with eyes that could very well have been bloodshot. “It is not that trivial a matter. I’m not sitting here mourning my loss to Mahi. I’m angry at the system … correcting a fault with a fault.”

The bitterness flowed unplugged, flooding the plains of her patience. “The maximum Mahi gets in her exams is somewhere around 92. She obviously pulled off the feat in the Boards too and thus has a GPA of 10 in every subject. I on the other hand always score above 95 in all subjects except the dreaded Hindi. I’m so sure that my total marks exceed hers.”

“Hey calm down kiddo. Flips happen in life,” I tried my hand at my weak suit, assuaging hotheads. But my own head had started brewing thoughts. She was right after all. To get a perfect score in a subject, one had to cross the watershed mark of 91. Suppose someone just about manages to push through this frontier. 5 times 91 make a neat 455/500. Cut to another story – Someone with scores above 95 in all subjects but one. The odd subject, maybe the pesky Hindi, nets an 80. Total equals 460. Higher than the other person. But the laurels ricochet out of the window because the CGPA would come to only 9.8.

Hmm … so if I touch 91 in all, the perfect 10 is mine. (So what if the perfect ten of an hourglass silhouette eludes me?) My wandering mind filled into the brain design of a devious brother. Someone who is the master of all things cut short. Faced with a situation where the last question on a Maths paper on a pie-diagram makes him go into a tizzy and is nothing like a pie, what does my sweety pie do? Drilling into his head, I hear a shrill voice, “Oh chuck it. Let me just cut some corners here and make it easy for my weary hands. How much are they gonna prune off my marks? A mere four? A 96 is as good as a 100 on the Sibal Scale.” And so he walks away, his competitive edge blunted by degrees. Call it killing of killer instincts. Go-getting gone to dust.

A month into the first rollout of results according to the new system, it is bathed in ambiguity. For a majority of laymen blissfully ignorant of the mechanism that promises a well-oiled working, CGPA is nothing but percentage with a decimal splitting the digits. And so I heard off the grocer’s shop gossip —

“A CGPA of 6.2? Don’t you know? That’s a fancy way of saying 62%.” But maybe that lacuna will fill itself in an act of suicide when the dreaded Boards are scrapped starting next year.

No doubt the merits of the new system are many. Students accountability throughout the four seasons like a spring fountain is the most delightful one. But the irony is not lost on one. Demoralizing winning entries and having complacence creep into plenipotentiaries who can push harder is perhaps not the best way to save a country from the heartbreak of failure and usher in an age of tooth-and-nail progress. For the record, the system that promised to save students from failure has failed the very best of them. All that is required to do is to set the record straight.

The writer is a Senior Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz.