Print Edition - 2017-06-21  |  The Collegian

Old wine in a new bottle

  • Letter grading system is not indicative of quality education
- Mahesh Nath Parajuli
Understanding the grading system is essential, especially in the backdrop of the hullaballoo created by Secondary Education Examination results and the marks students obtained

Jun 21, 2017-Understanding the concept of schooling is essential to understanding its assessment system. There are many scholars who believe that the current form of schooling and its examination procedures brings division among people. The division begins among students with some deemed as talented, while others as incapable. These scholars argue that the education system needs an complete overhaul.

While this debate on schooling continues, we should at least have tools to assess the performance under the current system. One of the most popular methods for assessment has been the numeric assessment that gauges the performance of students in a scale of 0 to 100. In Nepal, we had for long practiced the numeric assessment system where students sat for hours-long exams and were graded between 0 to 100 points; 0 indicating that students did not have any knowledge on the subject, while 100 would mean that students had great command over the subject. We then set a benchmark along the scale to define who passed or failed. For instance, to assess the former School Leaving Certificate students, the government used 32 marks as its bench mark to decide who passed the exam and who did not. Interestingly, when we ask two different evaluators to assess the same answer sheet, the marks a student scores varies.

This dominant approach in educational assessment however comes with many problems. What does the 100 mean? Does it imply that the students know everything on the subject? Or what does the 0 mean? Does it mean that student know nothing? This interpretation has a major drawback. First, those who score 100 might not know everything on the subject while those who score 0 might know at least some basics of the subject. 

In the meantime, the state came under fire each year when hundreds of students were deemed as “failures” and were stopped from pursuing further education. These students were left in a lurch just because they could not pass in some subjects.  

These issues called for a new assessment system and the Nepal government chose to adopt letter grading system.

The letter grading system will undoubtedly bring reforms in some facets of education in Nepal. First, it merges the unnecessary gap created by the numeric grading system where educational institute boasted of their performance based on high grades. This reflection could be seen among parents and students who belittled students who scored less. Second, it ends the monopoly of numeric grading. This provides a level playing field for students to pursue the subject of their interest. This can furthermore reduce the people dropping out school. If we talk about the job market, the employers can judge people based on the requirement of the job and its respective subjects than by going through the entire marking.  Third, the stigma associated to ‘fail’ will also be drastically minimised if not ended.

However, our letter grading system violates a fundamental practice of evaluating students. The letter grading system is an ongoing process of evaluating students right from the beginning of class to its end. It is a continuous process of evaluation and taking a written examination is just a small part of it. Our current evaluation and grading it in Grade Point Average (GPA) is entirely based on the same old three hours written examination. Hence, this makes the current evaluation an old wine in a new bottle. I hope that government will start evaluating this facet as well.

Another failure on part of Ministry of Education is the lack of debate before introducing the letter grading system. People do not know what this system entails. Understanding the grading system is essential, especially in the backdrop of the hullaballoo created by Secondary Education Examination and the marks students obtained. 

The posters schools create with pictures of students who have obtained high marks speak volume about how SEE was used as a marketing strategy to increase school enrollment. Also, this time the trend of converting the GPA to percentage and telling that a student passed in distinction, first or second division showed how unprepared our society is regarding the new evaluation system. It is therefore an important task for the MoE and other concerned government agency to inform the people in this regard. 

Misconception among people, including what students should now study because everyone will pass the exams was a big problem. Also, the nitty-gritty of the individual grade and its subsequent implication in higher education should be communicated effectively.

More importantly, letter grading system is not indicative of quality education. The debate of quality education is a totally different ball game. It is just a means to evaluate students and has nothing to do with quality education as it has been rumoured.


(Based on the interview with Manish Gautam of the Post. Parajuli is the Dean of School of Education, Kathmandu University) 

Published: 21-06-2017 10:20

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