January 14, 2006

One Grade Higher

Ang sumusunod ay ang aking bagong article sa The Podium, ang newsletter ng FEU-IABF Student Council kung saan ako ang adviser. Sa mga nagbabasa rito sa tambayan, mapapansin na ito ay English version lang ng isa sa mga entries ko dati. Ginawa ko lang medyo pormal ang dating.

Marami kayang tamaan?

Sana. :)

"Sir, puwede bang one grade higher?"

As of the time of this writing, it's the time of the year when I need to compute the grades of my students. As always, I have to turn off my cellular phone to stop the influx of irritating messages asking for "consideration." Once again, I am bombarded with recurring reminders of how important an academic scholarship is, prompting me to reply "Naka-template na ba iyang reminder mo?"

How I miss the days when a grade of 1.5 already felt like winning a national competition. Or when 2.0 is a norm, which is precisely why this rating is qualitatively labeled as "Good." Nowadays, everybody expects to be "Very good" (1.5-1.75) or even "Superior" (1.25-1.0). Nowadays, it seems like being good is not good enough. Nowadays, a grade of 1.5 would be met with a frown, instead of a smile.

These are symptoms of a worldwide phenomenon called grade inflation - an observed trend of an annual increase in grades given away on average to students in higher learning institutions. According to Randy Cohen of the New York Times Magazine, grade inflation is now a "big-time issue" among American universities. For example, in a study made by former Harvard Dean Henry Rosovosky, he found out that in recent times, A or A- comprise fifty percent of the grades given in Harvard, compared to a measly twenty-two percent during the mid-1960s. In the University of Columbia, half of the student population are Dean's Listers. The problem is so prevalent that a leading UK newspaper, the Telegraph, questioned whether a university degree has already lost its meaning because of grade inflation.

There is still a lack of empirical support as to whether grade inflation is indeed taking place in our university. Based on personal experience, though, students today appear to be more grade-conscious. It frustrates me to see students doing everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - to get high grades. Watching out for one's grades in itself is not a bad thing, but when the preoccupation over it becomes an obssession and has taken precedence over the concern for learning, then it becomes a different matter entirely.

I wonder how it feels going around proclaiming "Naka-uno ako!!!" when my grade is supposed to be 1.25 and the professor just granted my request to adjust the grade a step higher? I wonder how it feels demanding for a grade of 1.0 when I know that my classmate who really deserves the grade of 1.0 truly performed better in class?

I wonder how it feels if I get a very high grade even though I ended up learning nothing? I wonder how it feels if I graduate cum laude but end up failing the board exam because I am just good at getting high grades but not good at learning the substance of my lessons?

Why do some students choose to absent from the class of a professor who is very eager to share his knowledge just because they need to color notebooks, write diary entries, and prepare "props" to get high grades from an inane professor?

Why do students say "Thank you" when they get a high grade, but refrain from doing so if they get a "low" grade despite learning a lot from their professor?

Why is it that the professor, the groupmate, the housemate, the barkada, and/or that somebody-else-other-than-me is always the cause of a low grade?

How rich is the life of a student who spends all his academic life in the pursuit of high grades and academic honors, forgetting that there is much to be learned from the world outside the four walls of the classroom and the pages of his text books?

I can not really blame today's students from becoming so grade conscious to the point that high grades has become, for lack of a better term, commodified. For one, our society has promoted the idea that grades are assessments of the person, labeling people who get low grades as "bobo" and "tanga." In turn, students take grades personally, when in reality, grades are assessments of the work and not the person himself. Thus, students respond poorly to the implicit criticism of low grades, particularly when they get accustomed to unearned high grades at earlier levels or in other courses.

It does not help that some faculty use grades as an enticement for them to earn the favor of their students (and subsequently earn a high evaluation score). It does not help that some faculty grant grades that do not seem to correspond to the learning objectives of the courses they are handling.

It also does not help that some parents, well-meaning they may be, never seem to be satisfied with their children's academic performance. As one of my students once said, "Nakapartial-scholar ka na, gusto pa full scholar ka. Pag full scholar ka na, gusto pa Dean's Lister ka. Pag Dean's Lister ka na, gusto nasa top five ka. Kapag number two ka, hindi pa masaya kasi hindi ikaw ang number one."

Then there's the economic factor. With tuition fees skyrocketing in meteoric proportions, usually doubling within a student's four-year term in the university, I can not help but feel sympathetic to students who would fight tooth and nail for higher grades to get the much coveted academic scholarship. For the financially challenged, what good is one's principles or pride, if holding on to it could cost you a P10,000 refund?

I wish that high grades would once again be treated as sources of pride and respect, not as commodities which students need to bargain for. I wish that someday, the entire system would be corrected and students would once again be able to focus on learning, instead of "earning." For in the end, the grades we "earned" are of no consequence. Our 1.0s, 1.25s, and 1.5s would someday be forgotten, but the knowledge and principles that we learned in our brief stay in this university would leave an indelible mark in our lives, shaping not only ours, but also our society's, future.

For when everybody is above average, then what is the average? For when everybody is deemed excellent, where's the honor in being excellent?

"Grade Inflation: It's Not Just An Issue For The Ivy League," John Merrow
"Grade Inflation...Why It's A Nightmare," Jonathan Dresner
"Where All Grades Are Above Average," Stuart Rojstaczer


Anonymous said...

nice entry sir, EVAN

Anonymous said...

another question:

"educational" or "academic" excellence?

napadaan lang po. naghahanap ako ng artikulo tungkol sa kiko machine nang nakita ko ang blog mo.

ergoe said...

*standing ovation* Sabihin ko kay Nanoy i-print 'to ta's ikalat sa kolehiyo niya. Hekhekhek!

Anonymous said...

astig po itong blog niyo po. pahiram po nitong blog post niyo po, re-post ko lang po...ang lupit po kasi ng dating eh