Grades, Marks and the Great Indian Education System


indian-education-systemIn the education system which is in place in our country today, the evaluation provides an essential yard stick to judge the quality of students. It also provides motivation and a sense of purpose to both teachers and students to achieve defined set of goals. Evaluation of students begins at very early stage. This traditional evaluation process had many negative effects. The biggest drawback is that students, parents and society at large, become too anxious in the race to acquire more and more marks in examinations which leads to an extreme stress. Moreover, though all out efforts are made to enhance the reliability of examination, the human error cannot be avoided.

In order to overcome such shortcomings, the government re-modeled the entire evaluation process. In this new system, the students are placed in ability bands that represent range of scores and student’s performance is assessed using conventional numerical marking mode, and the same is later converted into the grades on the basis of the predetermined marks ranges namely, A1, A2 etc. with their equivalent grade points.

In today’s context, grading system is important as it effectively communicates the degree of achievement of a student to a variety of stakeholders. The grading of students also takes away the frightening judgmental quality of marks obtained in a test leading to a stress free and joyful learning environment in the school. It also enables to maintain a meaningful continuity in the assessment  pattern from the primary level to the secondary level and also in ensuring a basic uniformity in the schools. Not only does it eliminate unhealthy cut-throat competition among high achievers, it also reduce societal pressure.

Stress-related suicides are very high among students who live in fear to fail in the exams. The most important aspect of the grade bases system is that there is no practice of declaring compartment/ fail. Those candidates who obtain the qualifying grades (D and above) in all the subjects excluding Additional subject as per scheme of studies are awarded a Qualifying Certificate and those who obtain  grade E1 or E2 in the subject can improve their performance through subsequent five attempts.

While the grading system makes the learning process joyful, but for a student, the troubles are still many. He has compete to find a seat in a college and fight the ‘cut-off’ battle. The news of high cut-off appear in newspapers and news channels during this season every year. Students throng the premier colleges of India in order to secure a seat for themselves, but for most of them, it remains a distant dream. For example, the high-profile St. Stephen’s College of the Delhi University has released the first cut off list recently. The college has declared 99 per cent cut-off for English Honors for commerce stream students. The college has kept the cut-off for most subjects above 95 per cent. As the college receives applications in large numbers, it can easily declare high cut-off without having to worry about to fi ll the seats across streams.

This is not something new, for certain streams taught at the university, even 100 per cent cutoff marks have been declared in the past. Experts attribute the demand supply dynamics for this and indicate that the solution to this lay only in expanding the educational infrastructure. But that is easier said than done.

Experts also believe that if the demand is much greater than supply, then the cut-off will go high automatically. There is only one St. Stephens College and everybody wants admission there. That explains the absurd cut offs. And all subjects are not available in private colleges which roll out programs only based on the profitability basis. Students who want to pursue humanities and art courses are the biggest losers in this game. The government for many reasons has failed to ensure quality education to students who enroll for college level courses. Lack of good colleges is one of them. Top colleges’ seats get filled quickly by students who score most.

This leaves few choices for those students who score little less, say 95 per cent. Even for a country like India where Gross Enrollment Rate (GER) lingers around 19 percent at the moment, 6 percent below the world average, the government cannot provide seats to deserving students. India apparently has a vision to increase GER to 30 percent by the year 2020 for which massive investment will be needed.

Another reason why the government has failed to provide seats to the deserving candidates are that states and the universities
within their territories are not doing well. On an average, states spend around 5 per cent on the higher education. While states like UP, West Bengal, and Jharkhand spend less, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, and Andhra Pradesh spend more money per student and are much better than national average.

But it is not just financial problems the universities are facing, but also problems like political interference, mismanagement, and lack of accountability are also effecting education standards. If states will do well, they can absorb students passing through state board exams. This will reduce strain on premier universities like DU.

As is clear from the All India Survey on Higher Education, on national average, number of colleges per lakh population is as low as 25. This indicates that we are hopelessly short of colleges, and we are not even talking about quality yet. Furthermore, majority of higher education institutions are government funded. They lack funds to improve infrastructure or faculty members. As per annual report of UGC, in terms of facultywise student enrolment, only 20 per cent of students opt for professional courses and rest go for normal streams. In such a scenario, non-technical colleges will have to adjust large number of students, let alone the crème one.

As stated above, even as the government or partially government funded colleges have failed to offer seats to a major section of
students, private universities have shared the burden in terms of enrolment only to some extent. The presence of private colleges and universities have increased where seats are more and courses are flexible in nature.

At present, the private sector accounts for nearly 59 per cent of enrolment in higher education. But, the private institutions are subject to tough regulations with very little flexibility. These institutions cater to the huge supply-demand gap and offer courses that suit markets need. Some private universities in higher education have broken conventional paradigms in education and have set new standards. Many have started to experiment with curricula and have started to offer flexibility to students to develop their own syllabi. Such institutions can serve as models for other institutions for developing 21st century skills, critical thinking, communication and leadership.

mediocre colleges
Rise of businesses like call centers has led to an increase in mediocre colleges

But studying at these institutes  are at times risky also. Mainly because the people who didn’t know enough about education, and had no aspirations to be in education – mostly business people from industries such as real estate who knew how to get large pieces of land allotted or had surplus cash – started to create private colleges and universities. Given that they were not academically oriented people, or didn’t understand education, even if they were well intentioned, they didn’t know how to create an environment for education.

They saw themselves as providing a service, and the service was providing somebody a degree that could get them a job. Thanks to the demand fuelled by the rise of IT, BPOs (business process outsourcing firms) and our services industry, this “service model” of education worked well enough to attract large numbers of students. This led to a mushrooming of many mediocre private universities that definitely provided many students an option, but there was little incentive for these universities to improve. That will have to change.

India needs to make sure that private universities are encouraged, and that the legislation to create them is enabling. It’s a maze right now with multiple governing bodies that have conflicting mandates.Several states do not yet have a State Private University (SPU) Act. Because universities and institutes are so tightly controlled, there is little autonomy in and flexibility in governance structures. Private universities, like government-owned universities, have little scope for innovation in designing their course curriculum.

All of this needs to be looked at immediately. There is some hope that this can happen. A few states, mainly Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat have progressive SPUs. The rest of the states can open up too.