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

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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.

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  1. Arun Sharma

    Hi Shruthi, very nicely put forward thought about the flaw of the system and how it’s just another problem to a problem, rather than a solution. But there’s something that underscores the importance of the entire CGPA system. And I know this because I’ve been through this system for 4 years during my BE. You’ve focussed on exactly the right thing, the cut-off to score a similar grade, but you should look at the rationale behind having such a system. Do you really think that a person scoring 94 marks in an exam is better in any way than the one who scores, say 91? No ways. Just a wrong state of mind of the student or the examiner can make that difference in the scores. So, it’s unjustified to rank the first student over the second. Grade system appreciates the fact that students who score above 90 are all equal, which is more than often times correct.
    The advantage is that we don’t crib about scoring a mark above the others, but being good everywhere to reach atleast the cut-off. This doesn’t reduce the spirit of competition in any way. It did not do that in our case, for atleast 4 years and the system has been in place for more than 15 years now. This system is followed in most of the best education systems across the world. If you apply for higher studies, it doesn’t matter what your absolute CGPA/Marks are, it matters that you’ve cleared a certain cut-off. So, I think that the only change that we need in our education system now is to align our higher education system as well to this new form of assessing the students.

  2. Shruthi Venukumar

    Hey Arun!

    Thanks for the feedback and observations. If we go by standard GPA rates across the world, seldom would we find a system in which a ten-point stretch (eg: 81-90 or 91-100) is denoted by the same Grade Point. Comparison with the Western GPA system is unfair as there, a ten point mark stretch is divided into 3 Grade Points. That is why they have an A+, an A and an A- in the same ten mark extension. Thus assessment is much more accurate and the chances of a person with lower grades than a said person getting a higher GPA than him is highly reduced. This is very different from what is followed in the newly instituted Indian system. Enlighten me about the system followed in a standard BE course. If you assess each point mentioned in my article, you would find that I haven’t drawn a distinction between a person who scores a 94 and one who scores a 91. But there is a clear distinction between a 91 and a 100. Even if one is to argue on the contrary and say that it is unfair to distinguish between students who are so close in the range of marks, would you call a system where someone with clearly higher marks than a person in question is placed at a runk lower than him? Does it not amount to demoralizing the better scorer? Such treatment will only result in the brighter ones losing their eye for competition. We all compete for rewards. What if the rewards are insipid?

    Students under a Western education system or vocational courses like BE etc have the choice of subjects. Assuming that no one is forced to study the stream that they would rather not but majors in the subject that they find they have a knack in, I’d say that scoring decent grades is made way easier than when one has 5 different subjects from different streams requiring different abilities and aptitudes as is the case in Class 10th. (As is made clear from the example of Hindi; the weak point may vary with students.)

    As someone who has had the opportunity to receive education under both the marking system and the GPA system (3-point spread on a ten mark extension) I can say that GPA at school will only be effective if grade points are assigned at smaller mark intervals. It is this sort of difference in GPA that impels competition and not one where there’s an unfair distinction.

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