There was a time when scoring 65% meant you were brilliant, and if you touched 70% then Einstein had better watch out! But today anything short of 100% in Higher Secondary does not guarantee admission to a department of choice in Delhi’s top colleges.
In economics, the GDP deflator is used to assess the imdipankapact of inflation on the pricing of goods and services. But what kind of deflator do we need to make sense of grade inflation in high school results?
Scoring 99% in English, once considered impossible, is not uncommon today. The question, therefore, is whether our kids are getting more skilled and more competitive, or whether awarding high marks is a clever way of concealing poor education.
It is comforting to imagine that India is intellectually rising because our school grades are getting better every year. However, all indications show that the reverse is actually true. While at one end, college cut offs keep going up, our international standing in science, technology and innovation keeps going down. In other words, scoring high marks does not necessarily mean learning well, at least in India.
Over the years our students are getting better and better grades on paper, but have these brilliant performances helped to push up our knowledge levels? According to the 2014 Global Innovation Index, 81% of patent applications are from China, the US, Japan, South Korea and the EU. While America leads in computer systems, South Korea has emerged as the new kid on the block. It has overwhelmed all of Europe and ranks second to the US in this very high-tech sphere.
But where is India? In terms of patent applications we cannot match up to any of the world leaders in the field. Curiously enough, patents submitted by Indians abroad are more in number than those that originate in our country. Once again, education here seems to have contributed little.
Worse, our school children fare very poorly when it comes to skills in reading, writing, mathematics and science. Globally we now stand 62nd on this measure, well behind even Jordan and Armenia.
It is bad manners to go on and on, but our famed IITs do not figure among the top 300 institutions of higher education in the world. There is so much pressure in India to win a place in these engineering colleges, so much envy against those who make the grade, yet globally these institutions are minor players.
It is not as if western universities are always on top. Peking University occupies the 48th position, Tsinghua the 49th and even lowly Fudan University, at rank number 193, is way above our best.
The reason why a grade deflator does not work like a GDP deflator does is because the quality of the product that is being accounted for is not the same. True, more and more students are getting higher and higher marks, but the standard of education is going in the opposite direction. There was a time when a first class meant something and one wore that distinction like a badge of honour. But today, those with 60% would happily throw a party if a lowly vocational school lets them in.
The principal reason for grade inflation in school results is the way teachers have traded in their sense of responsibility for comfort. Consequently, question papers have become more and more objective and the right answers are actually screaming in your face. At times it comes down to the presence of a certain word, or sentence, in an answer for a student to max the question.
On the other hand, if you try and be creative, your grades could slide all the way down. Examiners, in the main, do not want to be bothered by reading something new in the answer scripts. Listen up, people; tick the right boxes, say the right thing, take your marks and run.
It is not as if everybody is happy about this outcome; some teachers are actually chafing at the bit. Yet, the educational system is structured such that taking responsibility for quality teaching and marking can become job threatening. All of this suits mediocre instructors excellently; as long as the grades are good, there is little scrutiny and everybody is happy. The more generous the system of marking, the less pressure there is on teachers to perform.
It is not as if such an affliction only attacks schools. Even universities and institutions of higher education happily inflate grades. This is one of the reasons why good school teachers and professors are driven out by bad ones.
In some post graduate departments, it is hard for a student to score below a B plus. This depresses the urge to learn for high grades are like low hanging fruit. Is it surprising then that good marks at home are accompanied by poor performance on the world stage? So when our Higher Secondary grades climb even higher next year, and in every subsequent year, be prepared for a proportionate fall in educational standards.
But how high can these marks go? If 100% is not such a big deal any longer then will we see 105% soon? Or, perhaps even 110% before long?
Dipankar Gupta – a social scientist