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July 02, 2018 Monday 04:57:54 PM IST

THE 499/500 SYNDROME:Is the Obsession with Grades/Marks only Growing

Rajagiri Round Table

There is no taking away from a child who scores 499 out of 500 marks. She is most certainly an achiever. It is a worthy achievement. But if the recent narrative in media, social media in particular, were anything to go by, it clearly points to a deepening and disturbing obsession with marks and grades in the community.


Grades were introduced to take away from soul-killing comparisons that ‘marks’ naturally threw up. But as we speak, grades have merely replaced marks to foster the selfsame corrosive obsession with the child’s academic ‘performance’ with little reference to his or her understanding of a given subject/competence/worldview.


Surely, it is a competitive world and there is no denying the importance of a good grade. One can miss admissions to top schools and colleges by the margin of a mere fraction! But is that all to learning, education, and life? Have top grades necessarily translated into greater humanism, higher ideals, and, indeed, a better world at large?


What we are looking into is not whether high grades are desirable or not desirable; they are desirable, up to a certain point. But how do we get a perspective on it and how do we manage this growing obsession that can only be damaging to the overall psychological well-being of our young.


So, what is the Way Forward? These, among a host of other ideas, including curriculum design, constituted the central idea of the 37th Rajagiri Round Table Conference.


Dr. D. Dhanuraj, Chairman,Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi: There are today over 31 crore (310 million) students in India’s schools today, with over 10 lakh (1 million) government schools and 2 lakh (.20 million) private schools. That makes for the world’s largest student body, but it would almost make for the fourth biggest country in the world by itself, just a shade behind the US with a population of 327 million! Such is the colossus called education that we are dealing with in India. The perception and demand has changed over the last five years. Parents have felt increasingly pressured to admit their children in the best schools and colleges. But the starkly gray area is that most educational institutions go by quantity, represented by marks. In the US, for example, evaluators look at 60% of a student’s score card to judge what s/he is good at. In the UK, it is between 75-80%. In India, it tops at 100%! So, the pressure to pile up top marks is a psychologically and obsessively self-debilitating affair in India. The fundamental problem is with the inherent flaw in our education system that takes away from creativity and innovation.


Dr. Manu Melwin Joy, Assistant Professor, School of Management Studies, CUSAT: There has been an unfortunate shift from ‘why’ to ‘what’ in our system. In the pursuit of cramming information, our children are forced to look to ‘what’, more than ‘why’. Question is, is our education system building such a conviction and belief in our students. It’s high time we moved from ‘what’ to ‘why’, from quantity to inquiry, from received wisdom to innovation.


Dhanya Bhaskaran, Senior Marketing Editor (Kerala), Ratna Sagar (Publishing House), Kochi: What has, unfortunately, been our central pursuit? We are focussed on the ‘product’ to the near-absolute exclusion of the ‘process’ of learning, where, in fact, the teacher becomes a co-learner and co-producer of knowledge, and not an authoritarian arbiter of information. Our system does not evaluate individual aptitudes, capabilities, and competencies. We evaluate without even a basic blueprint of what we need to evaluate! On the other hand, have we ever thought about our ‘stigmatised’ backbenchers?  The backbenchers are, in fact, often those who come to the fore in times of need or crisis in community or  society. So, is academic proficiency, measured in terms of ‘marks’, alone enough to produce well-rounded, humane, and emotionally mature citizens?


Philip Daniel, ManagingDirector, Best Talents Consultants: Is this obsession with scoring top marks a function of excellence? I ask this question because from my experience over the past three decades of human resource consulting, both nationally and internationally, a significant part of our young graduates from our educational institutions are unemployable. So, question is, does the young graduate have an understanding of their respective subjects of specialisation. This raises fundamental questions about how we teach and how we learn. It’s time we revisited our essential assumptions about pedagogy and preparing our young for a productively and creatively invested life.


Shevlin Sebastian, Journalist, The New Indian Express: Our education system has no connection with life. In fact, there is hardly any creativity in our daily life. So how do we remain creative in life, despite the system we are reared in? I would say the ‘backbenchers’ are the most creative more than the so-called high-scoring youngsters. Why has there been no discovery during the last 100-150 years in India? Why are Indians not inventing? Why are there no world-class universities in India? And this is, ironically, despite such academic ‘accomplishments’ that hardly translate into anything meaningful, creative, productive, or substantive.


Dr. P. R. Poduval, Former Professor & Director, School of Management Studies, CUSAT, Kochi: Education cannot give an individual anything and everything that s/he wants. Similarly, an organisation cannot expect every competence from a young graduate. Ideally, an organisation ought to be an educating institution. Therefore, to expect the education system to make a young student 100 percent employable is nonsense. I would say that our expectations are unrealistic. Therefore, to put the blame on the system is not fair either. Scoring 499 on 500 is not necessarily a bad thing, but at the same time, let us not conclude that it is a stroke of genius. We need to take a more holistic view.


Mekhna Rose Binil, Student, Electrical Engineering, Muthoot Engineering College, Kochi: Education has become a soulkilling exercise, what with students required to merely learn by rote and ‘reproduce’ what has been ‘given’ in class. In reproducing faithfully lies academic success, for such is the measure we use to evaluate learning. So, what are we learning? Is our aptitude or creativity put to test? Our education system needs a radical overhaul for what is the ultimate measure of a person’s life? A fish cannot be judged by its ability to climb a tree.