Have you ever wondered:
Why do we need to grade a student?
Why do we need to give marks?
What if there were no marks/no grades?
When/Why did this marking system start?
Do we really need this grading system?
Bluntly put, marks-based examinations are nothing but a convenient system developed to put the onus of failure on the students.
To give more context, when you fail an exam, and you don’t get admission into a college, you don’t blame the government, right? For not being able to provide you means to access higher education. You feel that it’s YOUR fault that you didn’t study well/perform well. Basically, we don’t protest or condemn the system when we don’t get in a college because of low marks. We put it on us (students) that we didn’t work hard. This is what we have been made to BELIEVE over a period of time!
A couple of centuries ago, there was nothing called marks or grades. The earliest marking schemes had originated in the USA in the late 18th century. In India, all of this arrived much later. Instead of marks, earlier, there were descriptive sharing of students’ performance (strengths and weaknesses) with students and their parents or guardians.
But slowly, with a rising number of children going for higher education, the government did not have the proper infrastructure to provide higher education to the growing number of students. Therefore to shrug off the responsibility, and put the onus on students, this grading system was devised. However, if you think real hard, ideally, one shouldn’t need good marks “only” to get into a good college.
For example, JEE is the entrance exam for engineering. Now, to become an engineer or rather an effective engineer, let’s say that a person needs a minimum understanding of the subjects: Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. So, ideally, the JEE exam should be qualifying, i.e., whoever has a minimum knowledge of PCM. That student should be equally eligible to become an engineer. Then, why give ranks? Why so much competition?
The idea that a student with only better subject (PCM) knowledge will become a better engineer is hugely flawed because here you only focus on subjects and completely negate other factors like the interest of students and the willingness to give back to the community. And we also forget that not getting good marks doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not good at that subject. There are other factors in scoring good marks, sometimes more important than subject knowledge itself.
Intriguingly, none of us thinks about all of this because we have been made to believe that we need to get good marks and good ranks—otherwise we’re not “fit” to be an engineer (for example), and it’s rightful that we don’t get admitted to a good college. But we forget that in an entrance exam (like JEE), where 10 lakh students write an exam for 10,000 seats, somebody has to fail for sure; you just can’t help it.
Do you see a systemic handover of responsibility (rather guilt) to students for something in which the students have absolutely no say?
If you still don’t get it. Think of it this way:
It’s the state which is providing education, and in this, a student has absolutely no say. Schools are regimented structures where the government hails that they are producing better citizens. Now, when the government provides education, how can they say (after 12th grade) that one student is more capable than another?
How can they differentiate? Because the state (government) provided education in the first place. If a student fails (or doesn’t score a good rank), how is it the student’s fault? Why are we not questioning the state? Why don’t we hold the state responsible for the student’s failure?
The belief is so powerful, so deeply ingrained, that now, we don’t even feel that we should question the state about their inability to provide access to higher education. The state legitimizes their failure by signifying it as a student’s failure.