Academic grade inflation in Pakistan: Sweet poison

Dr Hazir Ullah

A common complaint today in the academic and non-academic circles is that ‘grades are too high and do not accurately reflect knowledge, reading and writing skills of the university graduate’. The rise in grades without a corresponding increase in students’ knowledge can be observed equally in schools, colleges and universities across Pakistan. Grade “A” and “B+” are the most common grades awarded to majority of the students for work not far above mediocrity. This leniency in grades never distinguish between the best and the very good; between the very good & good; and between the good & the mediocre. The leniency in grading promotes academically weak students to the next grades and encourages them to continue their education without efforts and hard work.
Academicians, researchers and policy makers may divide on the issue of grade inflation. There may be a few people who believe that students deserve better grades today because they are better than their previous cohorts. I disagree. I believe that grade inflation has become one of the serious education problems in Pakistan. Awarding high grades to students has become a norm both in the public and private education institutions. Schools and colleges do so in order to give their students a leg up in admission into professional colleges and universities. The case at the university level is a bit different. The expansion of higher education in Pakistan has compelled universities to hire more and more visiting teachers. Universities in Pakistan, in fact, have a few regular and more visiting teachers. Due to fear of poor evaluation, visiting teachers award straight “A” and “B+” to majority students. Visiting faculty are also asked, sometime forced, by Heads of the Departments to pass the failed students with the saying “Hat Halka Rakho”. Blaming only visiting will not be fair as a good number of regular university teachers who justify the award of high to mediocre students with the assertion that they are helping their students in getting scholarship, admission into postgraduate studies and giving their students a leg up in the job market.
Individual schools, colleges, universities and even examination boards advertise their high achiever students for getting their institution name into a lot of houses. Throughout the month of July and August 2018, one can see a stream of advertisements by different schools/ colleges/examination boards highlighting “A” graders. The leading private schools in the country proudly published and highlighted the number of “A” and “A+” of their students and their overall success in SSC, HSSC, O and A level examinations. In almost similar fashion, the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education Rawalpindi proudly announced the number of students who bagged “A” grades in 2018 SSC and HSSC examinations.
Some of us may have the belief that contemporary students deserve better grades with the assertion that the learning and knowledge of students have improved over time, and grades must go up in the same way to appreciate and acknowledge their knowledge. I do not intend to undermine the efforts and hard work of high achiever students and the contribution of selected education institutions. Nevertheless, the trend of high grades, is contradicted by admission tests score of professional colleges/universities and Central Superior Services (CSS) Examination results.
Looking at the entry test score of professional colleges, postgraduate admission tests in universities, results of the Central Superior Services examination, and the quality of our graduates in the job market reveal that the knowledge, writing and analytical skills of our students/graduates have declined when compare to their previous cohorts. Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Public Service Commissions have been complaining about the poor performance of candidates in competitive examinations. The passing percentage of CSS candidates for the last 12 years is: 2006 (6.67%), 2007 (5.4%), 2008 (16.2%), 2009 (15.70%), 2010 (8.1%), 2011 (8.67%), 2012 (7.83%), 2013 (1.93%), 2014 (2.86%), 2015 (3.2%), 2016 (3.32%), 2017 (3.32%). Similarly, my colleagues from across the country will bear me out that the candidates appear in the entry test for MS/M.Phil and Ph. D programmes in different academic disciplines perform poorly than their previous cohorts. This shows a vivid decline rather than improvement in the knowledge, writing and analytical skills of university graduates. I believe that there is a general rise in students’ grades without a corresponding increasing in their knowledge and learning.
I believe that grade inflation should be declared a misleading thing which works as an ineffective tool for communicating students’ their real abilities. It deprives graduates of the opportunity to understand what they do and don’t do well. It creates false consciousness among students – communicating them the message that they do everything very well without letting them to experience failure and learn how to recover. In fact, we are training a generation with an inflated sense of accomplishment who expect, rather believe, to receive results and awards for everything they do without a genuine feedback on their performance. This trend has done more harm than good to the students’ intellect. We should debate the issue of grade inflation and must convince our academic community and policy makers to fight grade inflation in their respective domains and stop the menace of grade inflation as it is seriously hurting our society in general and the quality of our education in particular. We need to rethink the entire education system of Pakistan and make a strong commitment to save our education from further destruction. The newly elected government should keep the inflated grade issue as one of the concerns in its education reform.
— The writer is Deputy Dean Faculty of Social Sciences & Chairman Department of Sociology, International Islamic University Islamabad.

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