Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Aiming to be average

Update : 03 Nov 2014, 08:59 PM

This is a story from 1955. During those days, there were not many students in this region. There was only one education board, the East Pakistan Board. A rumour had spread in some of the renowned institutions of East Bengal that the students from KM Latif Institution of Pirojpur might outpace the students of all the other institutions in that year’s matriculation examination.

The teachers of the school predicted that one particular student, who later became a governor of Bangladesh Bank, was going to stand first in the East Pakistan Board.

However, when the results were published, the headmaster of that school was shocked to see that his best student – who stood first in every examination in class – was not in the list of the top 20 students with the highest scores, while the one who used to stand second secured sixth place on the list.

In those days, there was no scope to re-scrutinise examination papers. But the headmaster of the school went to the board and managed to see the answer sheets of that student. He was awestruck to find out that some of the answer sheets of the most brilliant student of his school were blotted with ink, as if someone had intentionally done it.

The headmaster realised that someone did this deliberately – someone who was involved with the examination process and did not want a boy from a small town to stand first in the entire board.

I heard this story when I was interviewing a former government officer who studied at KM Latif Institution. He unravelled the story while he was explaining the education system of the 1950s. This is surely an example of unwholesome competition between the educational institutions of those days. But I think that there is a hidden message in this story.

In those days, there was no GPA system. First, second, and third divisions were the parameters which were used to measure the levels of achievement of students. And a list was announced by the board with the names of the top students of the country.

In 2002, the government decided to introduce the GPA system. The initiative was taken with a view to cope with the international standards of education. The first division was replaced by A+ or GPA 5. Since 2010, the number of GPA 5 achievers has been increasing rapidly.

In the last SSC examination, 142,276 students, around 10% of the total 1,008,174 examinees, got GPA 5. Nearly 45,000 additional students got GPA 5 compared to the previous year as well. This means that 10% of the total students of the country who passed the SSC examination have qualified as the best students – a record indeed.

The result of the HSC examination was brilliant as well. The number of GPA 5 holders in the HSC and equivalent examinations this year marked a significant increase, with 70,602 GPA 5 holders, which is 12,405 more than the previous year.

But surprisingly, the “brilliant” students of our country found themselves in deep trouble when the result of the admission tests in Dhaka University were published. According to the university’s authorities, 86% of the examinees failed to obtain the pass mark in the admission tests.

Even more surprisingly, around 66% of the 76,003 GPA 5 holders in the two exams had failed to secure pass marks in the DU admission tests. The admission test results in the previous academic years also give a dismal picture, with constantly high failure rates.

Such depressing results in the admission tests have raised questions about the quality of education provided by the teachers in the secondary and higher-secondary levels. The quality of education can be presumed from the fact that only two out of 1,364 students qualified for enrolment in DU’s English department.

The hidden message that I was talking about may give an answer to this conundrum. Before the introduction of the GPA system, the competition between the institutions was not only to enhance the pass rate and the number of first-division holders, but also to make their students the best of the bests, so that they could secure their place in the top scorers’ list of the board and the country, respectively. The parameter to identify the best institution was the pass rate as well as the number of students who were in the list of top scorers.

Test scores were more important in those days, as the top scorers’ lists were made by adding the total score of a student in every single subject. Obtaining good marks was a priority, but getting the highest marks in every subject was also necessary to be in the top scorers’ list.

So, the best students of the institutions used to receive special care from teachers. Others were also given extra attention so that they try harder to become as good as the best students.

Unfortunately, after the introduction of the GPA system, the priorities of the students changed. Getting at least 80 marks in every subject has become the priority as well as the necessity, because being the top scorer is not important anymore. A student who got 99 out of 100 in every subject is a GPA 5 holder. On the other hand, a student who got 80 out of 100 in every subject is also awarded with a GPA of five.

This is how the devaluation of talent occurs. The whole system has demoralised both the students and the teachers. The competition to make the best students has been converted into a competition of making average students. The education system of our country is on the wrong track. It is badly in need of an evaluation itself. The sooner, the better. 

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