Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, August 3, 2006

Behind S.S.C An astounding number of G.P.A 5 achievers?

The Fire of Elves

By reggie

The only thing that is increasing faster than Bangladesh's population is the number of people getting a GPA 5 in their SSC exams. In 2002 only 330 students got a GPA 5 and these guys were treated like national heroes. Imagine them all as Rezwan Haque, (the genius who got twelve something A-s in O-Levels and got into Harvard to become an even bigger nerd.haha). But this year however there was a staggering 8300% increase!!! Imagine this as the whole Bangladesh being flooded with Rezwan Haques!

While the government of Bangladesh may proudly claim that the results are a proof of their efforts and initiative to 'improve' secondary education, we cannot help feel that something is very wrong with this system. We have got to question does the 'great' grades really signify anything? Or whether this absurdly awesome result is only like inflation- money, which is absolutely worthless in real life?

First of all, it's crucial to understand how the system actually operates. The 'ganjam' erupted after a new grading system was imposed in early 2001. Under the new grading system there are 8 compulsory subjects and one optional subject. The 8 compulsories are basically the subjects you have to take based on the division you choose (Science or Commerce) and the one optional subject is anything you want.

The GPA of each subject is awarded according to the mark range you receive in each subject. (Look at the table). And the well-publicized 'GPA' you see splashed on TV is the average of all the GPAs you earn. So it seems that to get an overall of GPA 5 you must get 5 in each subject- a significant achievement! But…no! There is a catch. The total mark is not divided by 9 but by 8! Lemme explain:

The GPA you receive in your optional subject is subtracted by 2. Then the remaining mark is kept as a 'buffer'. It is added to the total of the compulsory subject's GPA if you are not getting a perfect score of 40 over there. For example if you get a 2 (that is a D) in any of your compulsory subjects and 5's in all the others, you get a combined GPA of 37. The 3 marks from your optional GPA are then added, so that you get a GPA of 40. This is divided by 8 and walla you have a GPA of 5- an A grade despite getting one horrible D! Unfair you say? Depends on your perspective really, but it does make your job to score a 5 more easy, provided you do well in your optional paper. So contrary to what you think, not every one of these 25,000 odd students have actually done a fantastic result of getting a perfect score in every of their subject. Fortunately, there is a way to distinguish them though. The SSC mark sheet mentions the grades in all the subjects. For those people who got all A's in all their compulsory subjects are called 'golden GPA 5 achievers'. And for those people, who got a 5 because of the 'help' from their optional subject, are called 'silver GPA achievers'. Quite predictably the number of golden people are pretty insignificant compared to the silver people.

Those with a little knowledge of mathematics can easily see that there is a natural grade inflation of 7.5% in the system. But look at the figures more closely. The increase is astounding. There is something else at work. Are the exams actually becoming easier too?

It is common knowledge that the core format and syllabus of the papers haven't changed in its essence for the last 10 years or more. Thus many teachers have a complete inner and outer knowledge of the syllabus and the question papers. This makes them all quite adept at 'predicting' or 'speculating' what might come in the exam- this is what you call 'common pora' Hehe. While it may be a matter of luck, whether you had something in common or uncommon in the exam, there is a sign that it's becoming increasingly common for 'common pora'. In Banani Biddya Niketon the teachers predicted up to 70% of the paper accurately. These guys even had their English Essay predicted accurately. They studied Pollution and guess what came in the exam, “Water Pollution”! Therefore they had an absurdly easy English Examination- a subject where it is notoriously hard to get an A.

Even if you can't predict, SSC examinees study so much material that one of them is bound to come in common. The advent rise of coaching centers is further helping their cause. Popular centers like MABS are holding exams every week, so by the time you sit for your exam you know 'everything'- literally. You got to hand it to the examinees. They strive more hard than anyone of us. So the increase in GPA has to be partly due to the increased efforts. But what everyone is missing, is the point that knowing the syllabus thoroughly and understanding the syllabus thoroughly are entirely different concepts. What a same format/type of syllabus and question papers does is enhances the fact that a student can get away by not maybe understanding the concepts as he should. Students are drilled to answer question papers.. They are drilled in such a way as to they can answer the questions even if they don't really understand or could use their knowledge creatively. The drilling process is leaving no gap between those who are really smart and those who are simply good. And if you are wondering whether 'Bengali medium students' do memorize everything by heart. There is a good deal of truth in it. Although, don't take it as an excuse to strut arrogantly. The memorization and 'exam giving culture' is pervading our dear O-Levels and A-Levels too.

More on the format, I must say- it is now structured in such a way that it leads to easy marks. A recent SSC Examinee said, “The science papers have been divided into three parts. Practical (25% mark), Objective (MCQs- 25%) and Written (40%). The practical examinations are taken inside one's own school and everyone claims that the teachers all naturally give full marks to its students.”

While this is unfair and I raised the point, the guy whom I interviewed replied, “Its not right for other teachers to conduct our own experiments too” he then continued, “ MCQs are supposedly really easy and pretty easy to score in too. This means that even if you get a poor written score you can still get above 80% to obtain the GPA 5.”

The most serious allegation however is the fact that there has been a steady degradation of question difficulty over the years. Everyone is talking about it. This years question has been the far most easiest- ever. Is it just a matter of luck? Or as many whispering voices claim, that the government did conspire to boost the GPA 5 achievers, so that it looks good for the elections? Evidence certainly points to that direction. The worst losers are of course the students. There is a distinct gloom over this year's results. Even GPA 5 holders look worried about whether they can get a place in a good college.

Despite how they achieved their marks, they are achievers and are the best. They deserve a good education and now it seems even they would have a serious admission headache. What about those who didn't get a GPA of 5? Tougher luck to them. And what about the astounding (though, decreasing) proportion of those who failed (43%)? It seems that what has become more important than providing 'education' is providing marks- because education doesn't provide the rulers and leaders with short-term benefits. Marks do. And we know that even if you hand out unlimited GPA 5's in reality you are not making the education system substantially better.

Disclaimer: The RS cannot be hold responsible for any of the opinions expressed here. I am not in any way trying to create a digital divide between English medium and Bangla medium system. There are flaws in both. The flaw is that ulterior motives have taken a bigger priority than education.


 
 

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