By Zafar Sultan.
“Why did you give too many As?” Grow led the HOD of my university at an academic who had awarded As to most of the students of our class. The teacher, a true scholar with a command over his subjects, knew how to keep the students captivated in the class, and importantly engaged in the subject. “Let the students be duly rewarded for their efforts,”he chimed.
At the same university, another teacher shared with us the anecdote of a teacher of the university of Punjab (known for notoriously austere marking) who gave 47/100 marks to an exceptionally well attempted paper of romantic poetry.
Having graduated,I chanced to do marking at Federal Board at secondary level.Ambitious and groomed by the philosophy of awarding marks,I awarded 89/100 to a student whose diction,sentence structure and handwriting was simply exquisite.When the news reverberated through the hall, where the centralised marking was being carried out, many whispers emanated in utter disbelief.In fact many questioned my marking criterion.Even mostof examiners in the hall mightnot be able to attempt paper of that quality, was my response.
In succeeding years,I got the opportunity to serve at various elite schools of Islamabad and a couple of universities,as a language teacher. There I found a pervasive approach to keep marking stringent.Infrequently, the teachers would argue that in language one cannot score or give full or near full marks.Not surprisingly, I would find the notebooks and scripts ofstudents daubedwith crosses, circles and underlines. Ironically, no one wouldpractically teach the hapless learners how to improve a certain area,though they would hammer them with marathon lectures,using the gimmickry of language,perhaps to overawe them.
Why are teachers not willing to give grades to those who really deserve them? Does our education system not promote the spirit of encouraging pupils? Is it the senseof complexity to which holds teachers’ hands while awarding marks? These were the questions which would haunt me.
Then, came a moment of reckoning, which addressed my curiosity, changed my entire outlook to teaching. During a webinar workshop, a renowned UK based academic, while answering a question to a teacher from Pakistan as regards how to ‘penalise’ a student if she (he) exceeds the word limit, she asserted ‘no,no,no’,we don’t penalise the students ,we award them with grades.’ This is not mere a sentence, it is a complete philosophy, a holistic approach towards teaching, I murmured. My all queries had been slacked.
And my belief strengthened when observed that students who barely get Ds and Cs in the internal exams get higher grades at the CIE and Edexcel. They award them with grades, not penalise them (unlike a predominant majority of language teachers in Pakistan tend to do and feel proud as well) would flashthrough my mind.
Fortune favoured at me a few days ago yet again when the same academic from the Cambridge Board came to Islamabad train teachers.At the very outset of workshop,she remarked that ‘penalisation’ was not in her dictionary. Furthermore, she mentioned that examiners mark what they see. Following it, she asked teachers to mark some of scripts of the students. Not unexpectedly, many of the teachers chose to be a little too frugal to give marks.Smiling, she asked the teachers to justify their marking; which they found hard to. To utter surprise to many, she showed some marked scripts that marked the correct points only while ignoring incorrect ones. Beaming, she pointed out that highlighting–positive strategy motivates the students.
These were the instances from capital. And one can gauge the conditions in other parts of country. The students are often found complaining for a drop down in their overall GPA or percentage, because of less marks in language or courses related to language.Sometimes they grumble at favouritism or disliking of a particular teacher, especially in semester system.
Without any doubt, I am not advancing the idea of overly generous marking, for it would dent already dwindling quality and credence of our education system. But I would certainly urge language teachers to revisit and reinvigoratetheir teaching so as to make the students well equipped with up-to-date language and shed of the propensity of depriving them of their due grades.
The writer is an academic based in Islamabad firstname.lastname@example.org