First News
Volume:7, Number:37
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COVER STORY
THIS WEEK

A Bubble Inside A Bubble

Education in Bangladesh has largely been reduced to getting good grades at any cost as a high number of GPA-5 winners fail to demonstrate high quality of learning

Education is the backbone of a nation. The more a country invests in its education sector, the more it is likely to be benefitted in the future. The educational institutes- schools, colleges, and universities- are instrumental not only in creating skilled manpower but also in nourishing the conscience and character of the students.

The power of a progressive, creative mind is unfathomable. An educated nation can achieve sustainable development in every relevant sector. However, what is our idea of an educated nation? More specifically, what is our concept of an educated person? In the context of our country, education has largely been reduced to getting good grades at any cost. The current education system encourages the students to obtain the highest Grade Point Average (GPA) by memorizing selected lessons from their textbooks. There is hardly any encouragement, let alone any incentive for going beyond the textbooks or trying to understand the contents of the lessons. We are already witnessing the result of such a shallow form of education. Many of the GPA-5 holders do not even know the difference between the Victory Day and the Independence Day of their country. This shameful situation has not been created overnight. It has been in the making for years.However, we cannot really blame the young students alone for their lack of basic knowledge; teachers and parents also have to take some blame. Most of the parents in our country put immense pressure on their children to get GPA-5 at any cost. Some of them even buy leaked question papers of board examinations and supply them to their children. This attitude clearly proves that all they care about is the good grade, not the quality of their children's education. Even the teachers have allowed education to take a back seat. They only teach selected chapters or lessons from the textbooks instead of helping the students understand a topic from a broad angle. As a result, the number of GPA-5 holders is increasing every year, but the quality of education is dropping.

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HM Ershad Jatiya Party chairman

Students who deserve to get zero are not only being given pass marks, but some of them are even being awarded GPA-5. The teachers and many high up officials are responsible for this situation. They have been ordered to give everyone pass marks and more. If this trend continues, our entire education system is bound to fall apart one day. The education students are getting today is not the right kind of education. I know of an instance in which a student wrote an essay on cow in English, and what he wrote was enough to drive any teacher insane. Yet, he was given 14 out of 15 marks. The Education Ministry should investigate why students are being given numbers so generously. At times, we are leaving brilliant students at the mercy of teachers, who have very little exposure to the outside world. Let us hope that the future will be better.

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Nurul Islam Nahid Education minister of Bangladesh

Students are doing well in the exams because the overall education system has improved. The education system has been updated to match the international standards. The creative system has been initiated. We have provided training to 500,000 teachers. With the training, they have become very skilled. Multimedia system has been introduced in the classrooms. As a result, students are being able to access a vast storehouse of knowledge. In the past, many students could not afford textbooks. Now, we are distributing millions of textbooks among the students completely free of charge. This is a revolutionary change in our educational sector.

Background

Bangladesh made the switch from class/division system to grading system in 2001 for School Secondary Certificate (SSC) level and later in 2003 for Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) level. The motivation behind this switch was to match the international standard of education, as well as to overcome the limitations of the class/division system. Initially, the number of GPA-5 holders was very few. However, the number started to pick up gradually and increased at such a rapid rate in the last couple of years that many people are questioning the validity of this system. Is this system really effective in evaluating the students’ merit? How accurate is it exactly? Was not the previous class/ division system more precise in evaluation? These are some of the questions many people have in their minds, for obvious reasons.

In the class/division system, a student’s individual marks in every subject used to be mentioned in the marksheet. A student securing marks between 600 and 1000 was placed in the first division; marks between 450 and 599 meant second division and 330 and 449 meant third division, whereas 750 was considered star marks. Letter mark for each subject was 80. The top 20 students achieving the highest marks from every education board used to receive special attention. To be a top scorer at a divisional level, a student had to do exceptionally well in every subject. These students were a shoo-in for prestigious and highly competitive institutions such as the medical college hospitals, BUET, etc. There was no scope to doubt their excellence because they used to do very well in their academic and professional fields. However, the same thing cannot be said about the students under grading system. Surely there are many brilliant, highly talented students who sit for SSC and HSC exams every year and eventually get GPA-5, but there is no way to separate them from thousands of other GPA-5 holders. As thousands of students get GPA-5 and there is no way to know their exact marks, it is quite impossible to judge their individual caliber. Prior to the introduction offiof the grading system, only 35 percent to 40 percent of students used to pass in the public exams. Today, the rate has shot up to 75 percent to 85 percent.

Why Grading System?

The class/division system had some limitations. The most well-known was the disparities in the results of different education boards. While some of the boards were known to be overly lenient, some were considered very tough with grading examination papers. Moreover, two examiners can give completely different marks to the same answer. If a student participated in exams under two different boards in the same year, he/she would get a completely different result. All of these problems created the need for a different evaluation system. In grading system, slight differences in marks do not make much of a difference to the overall result of a student. However, the current grading system is taking away all the challenges from education. Under the class/division system, a student had to aim for the highest possible marks, whereas in the grading system, 80 marks are enough to get the highest grade. As a result, many students are not reaching for more than 80 marks. Getting 80 is tough enough, but getting 90+ marks out of 100 definitely is a sign of higher merit. However, the students who get 80, and those who get 90+ are being shoved into the same category.

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Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury Professor emeritus of Dhaka University

I do not think the grading system was very necessary, or there was anything wrong with the division system. The current system does not allow the chance to evaluate a student’s individual merit compared to others. In the previous system, marks achieved in every subject used to be mentioned in the mark sheet. Come to think of it, the previous system had some upper hand over the existing one. The current grading system is not being able to assess a student's merit or individual achievements properly. Moreover, all the attention seems to be focused on getting GPA-5 at any cost. Our teacher selection system is very flawed as well. In many cases, nepotism, bribery, and political connections play a role in teacher selection. As a result, unskilled people are coming to this profession. If the teachers cannot teach properly, introducing new systems in every few years will not be fruitful. As students are not being able to rely on their teachers in the classroom, they are moving towards other options such as notebooks, guide books, coaching centers etc. If coaching center becomes more important than the classroom, it’s a sign of impending doom. The students are not being encouraged to learn new things- they are being pushed into the rat race of getting good grades. The practice of achieving general knowledge is vanishing from classroom. It clearly proves the level of general knowledge is dropping.

Importance of Academic Result

One of the main objectives of examinations is to assess the level of a student’s knowledge. From a practical sense, the results of examinations are the basis of formulating some idea about the level of knowledge the students have attained.

Their higher education and subsequent career options largely depend on their academic results. For a recruiter, academic results are often the only source to assess a potential employee. However, if the employee's skill does not match his result, it would not matter in the long run. The ever-rising GPA-5 rate is not necessarily a sign of students’ development or excellence; it is rather a sad reminder that quality control is no longer a priority in our education sector. To develop the quality of students’ knowledge, a teacher has to play two roles. On the one hand, she or he is the coach providing necessary training to the students to prepare them for the real world. On the other hand, she or he is the gatekeeper or quality control offiofcer giving grades to the students, good or bad. Based on their assessment, the recruitment sectors select their employees. If the teachers fail at quality control and give away good grades indiscriminately, the society will suffer in the long run. The grading system we have in Bangladesh at the primary, secondary and higher-secondary levels is called absolute grading system. In this system, grades are assigned according to a predetermined cutoff level. For example, in the SSC and HSC levels an “ A+” grade is assigned to everyone with a score of 80 and above (out of 100 possible), an “A” to those with 70 -79, A- for 60-69, B for 50-59, C for 40-49, D for 33-39 , and F for less than 32 . In this onus is more on the teachers to set a balanced paper. They might be compelled to set straightforward questions, considering the capability of relatively weak students. The examinees often show leniency in giving grades in this system, which is the reason why we are witnessing a surge in the number of GPA-5 holders.Relative grading is significantly different from the absolute grading system. This system gives the examiner more flexibility in deciding how to grade, and how to consider the continuous assessment of the scores of the students. A teacher can choose to give the highest grade to the top 5 scorers of a class and consider it as the baseline for the later grades. Relative grading is a continuous assessment of a student’s performance. The scores of his or her midterms, class participation, quizzes, assignments, presentations, etc., are just as important as their final exam scores.

Another method of assessment is awarding the students grace numbers. However, that cannot be awarded indiscriminately to everyone. The grace number system largely depends on a teacher’s experience with the students in the classroom. Based on his/her experience, a teacher would calculate the average grace ratio to decide what grade a particular student deserves. While relative grading and grace system allow individualistic assessment, they are inapplicable in the context of the public examinations. In SSC and HSC levels, an examiner does not have the opportunity to directly know all the examinees, so the flexibilities of relative grading will not be applicable here. While absolute grading seems to be the only option in SSC and HSC levels, the question papers should be challenging enough to differentiate a brilliant student from an average one. An average student will not be able to show the same depth or perspective a brilliant student will do, so they should not be awarded the same grade.

Different Grading System in Different Universities

While the grading systems in public examinations are fixed, things began to change at the university level. Different universities have completely different grading scales, and sometimes they are not even compatible. For example, scoring 80 percent marks in any BUET exams is challenging for the students. Without a certain level of knowledge and hard work, no one will be able to score 80 percent marks in a BUET test. On the other hand, in most private universities, students have to score more than 90 percent marks to achieve the highest grades. Despite having such a high rate, many private university students are being able to score the mark in a relatively easier way (compared to BUET students).

In BUET, the course final examination lasts for three hours, and it covers the entire syllabus of the course, which contains 70 percent of marks. The rest of the marks come from class performances and quiz scores. In the private universities, the final exams usually last for 1.5 -2 hours, and covers one-third of the syllabus. The rest two-thirds are covered in two midterm exams. The number distribution method in private universities usually goes like this: two midterms = 40 percent (20 percent each), quizzes + assignments + class performances = 25 percent, and final examination = 35 percent. As the syllabus is broken down into short segments, it is relatively easier to score high grades in the private universities. If the private universities want to fix 80 percent marks as the highest grade following BUET’s example, the examination system, syllabus, and marks distribution have to change as well. Which means, rather than two midterms, one final exam will cover the entire syllabus. The chance of that change ever occurring is almost zero, because the private university students are scoring over 90 percent marks in the tests without half the stress of BUET students.

Result Analysis

Results show that the number of GPA-5 scorers in SSC and HSC examinations has increased substantially over the years. In 2005, a total of 944,015 students participated in the SSC exam. Of them, 510,702 passed, and 17,294 achieved GPA-5. In 2006, the pass rate increased to 62.22 percent, and 30,490 students got GPA-5. In 2007 the caretaker government came to power.

That year, the pass rate in SSC and equivalent exams stood at 58.36 percent, and 32,646 students obtained GPA-5. The slight drop in pass rate in the new government's rule was criticized by many.It is alleged that in order to shut off the criticism, the government became lenient towards this issue. In 2007, the pass rate jumped to 72.18 percent. A total of 1,006,569 students participated in the exams that year. Of them, 726,563 passed. A total of 52,500 students got GPA-5, which is about 19,854 students more than the previous year. Following that, pass rate and GPA-5 rate broke the record of the previous year consistently. Like the caretaker government, Awami League-led coalition government also focused on increasing the number of GPA-5 holders. In 2009, the pass rate dropped slightly to 70.89 percent. Of the 1,058,000 examinees, 750,538 passed even after a drop in the pass rate. The number of GPA-5 holders increased to 62,307, 10,000 more than the previous year.

In 2010, the pass rate was 79.98 percent, which was 9 percent more than the previous year. A total of 1,200,975 students participated in the exam in 2012, and 906,492 candidates passed. That year, the number of GPA-5 broke all the previous records, at 82,961 students. The pass rate in 2011 was 82.31 percent. Of 1,307,155 students, 1,075,886 passed, and 76,749 got GPA-5. The pass rate in 2012 was 86.37 percent as 1,412,379 students sat for the exam, and 1,219,894 passed. Over 82,000 students scored GPA-5. In 2013, the pass rate was 89.3 percent. A total of 1,297,034 students participated in the exam and 1,154,778 of them passed. A total of 91,226 people got GPA-5, which was 9,014 more than the previous year.

In 2006, 510,949 students participated in the HSC exam, and 335,454 passed. Countrywide, only 9,864 students won GPA-5. The pass rate was 65 percent. In 2007, pass rate stood at 65.60 percent and 11,140 students got GPA-5. In 2008, the pass rate suddenly shot up to 76.19 percent. Out of 612,381 examinees, 466,570 passed the exam. The GPA-5 rate also doubled to 22,045 students. In 2009, the pass rate dropped slightly to 72.78 percent, and GPA-5 holders dropped to 20,136 students. In 2010, the pass rate was 74.78 percent. A total of 718,084 students participated in the exam, and 533,369 passed with 28,671GPA-5 winners. The pass rate increased to 75.8 percent in 2011 when 764,828 students sat for the exam and 574,261 passed the exam with 39,769 GPA-5 achievers. In 2012, the pass rate was 78.67 percent. A total of 917,673 students participated in the exam and 721,979 passed. A record number of 61,164 students earned GPA 5.

The Lenient Examiners

The examiners are allegedly being given directives by the education boards to show leniency and give grace marks to the students who fail in the exams. Moreover, they are also told to give marks for incomplete answers. An examiner of the Dhaka Board, who did not disclose his name, said, “I was in charge of assessing over 8,000 answer scripts. However, we could not do a fair job. None of those 8,000 examinees failed because we were told to give grace marks. If anyone does not listen to the Board then he or she will have to face punishment such as some relocation in our jobs. Besides, he or she will not be hired as an examiner again, and his or her promotion will be held back, etc.”

A chief inspector in the Rajshahi Board said that although the academic result of the students is good, our education system is on the verge of collapse. The creative system is also being misused, he complained.

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