Sunday 30 August 2015

A Critical Note on Ambiguities and Anomalies in CBCS guidelines (14/08/15) issued by DU on Grading System

(Prepared by Saumyajit Bhattacharya, Assoc. Professor, Economics, Kirori Mal College)

Before we discuss how DU has implemented the grading system let us understand the professed advantages (advocated by supporters) of the grade based assessment system over the conventional marks based assessment system.
a) Grading considerably reduces inter and intra examiner’s variability in marking. The same answer particularly in subjective papers may get even 10% (or more) variation in marks. For example, examiners may give anything between 15 to 18 in a 20 marks question for an excellent answer, according to one’s predilection. However, while grading one is most likely to give A plus.

b) Often these marks differences get cumulated for individual students in a biased manner (that is the variations don’t necessarily cancel out) and substantial differences may appear between two students with similar potential and performance in their final result depending on which set of examiners corrected their papers. Putting students of similar performance in same assessment bands (grades) minimizes these aberrations in assessment techniques.

c) This becomes particularly pronounced in cases where students opt for different electives, some of which are supposed to be more scoring than the others. It has generally been observed that science courses (or even economics) have much higher average marks than humanities courses and in a situation where students can opt from a range of courses variability in marks can itself become a basis of choice of an optional subject. The grading system avoids such perversity in choice of course because now irrespective of the nature of the course an excellent answer gets A plus, a very good one A and so on.

d) Grading system also reduces undesired and unsound comparison of small difference of marks and also unhealthy competition regarding that.
However, the grading system can be implemented in two different ways. An ideal one removes any marking scheme and each answer is graded rather than marked. This is particularly relevant for subjective papers. Alternatively there can be a partial grading system where even if answers are marked, the total marks in the paper is converted to a grade and what is most pertinent here is the students get a grade for the paper and not marks (i.e. the marks that constituted the grade is not revealed to the student). Whereas the issues relating to point a above is not taken care in this scheme, the issues relating to point d or even point c (if a scaling is done) get taken care of in this partial grading system.

However, what DU has implemented is a marks system cursorily dressed up as a grading system. Whereas it may appear that DU has chosen variant 2 actually neither of the two variants of grading system has been implemented. The basic understanding that is there behind any CGPA grading system has been completely jettisoned. Let us examine what DU’s so called grading system entails:

All papers are to be marked in 100 (75+25) and the passing marks remains 40. These marks will show up in the student’s marks statement. Because the passing criterion is based on marks it seems (though it is unclear) that two parallel evaluation records – a marks statement and a grade statement will be issued to a student after every semester (and a consolidated one at the end). So irrespective of whether two students get the same grade in a semester, they can and will be compared according to their marks difference, defeating the very purpose of the grading system.
More pertinently, the guidelines are entirely silent on how marks are to be translated into grades. Whereas a table has been provided to indicate how letter grades are to be translated to grade points, there is no mention how marks are to be transformed into letter grades. This is a gross neglect as evaluation will take place entirely in marks.

Curiously the grade points stop at 4 (P - the passing grade point). Anybody who fails gets 0 grade point. This can cause a serious anomaly, given the annual passing rules based on marks. Consider the following situation: Suppose a student has 8 papers in a year spread over two semesters. The promotion rules are that if the student gets an overall 40% in all papers together (separately in theory and practicals) he is promoted to the next year.
So for example a student who gets 38/100 in 7 papers and 54/100 in one, gets 320/800 and therefore she passes and gets promoted according to this rule. However her letter grade will be F and grade point zero in seven papers and she may get B (we are not sure because there is no marks to grades table provided) in the other. Her cumulative grade point will therefore be [(0*7)+(6*1)]/8]= 0.75, which is much below the passing grade point 4.
Consider another example a student fails to secure 40% in 3 papers and gets 35, 37, 38 but she gets 40, 40, 40, 45, 46 in the other five. Her overall marks are 321 and she passes. But the grade points will be 0,0,0,4,4,4,5,5. So the CGPA (assuming equal weights) will be 22/8 = 2.75 i.e. Fail – because it is less than 4.

This serious anomaly occurs because the grade points stop arbitrarily at 4. When marks are to be translated to grades students who have obtained say 30% or 20% cannot be given 0 grade point. They should get 3 or 2 or something akin to this. Further and more importantly this anomaly may not vanish even with this. In marginal cases the mismatch between grading pass point (4) and marks passing score 40% may arise. Therefore it is necessary to have passing criterion entirely in grade points (and not in marks percentage) in a grading system. The students should only obtain grades in each paper (and not marks), however these grades are arrived at in the evaluation stage.

A further ambiguity in the guidelines is about the passing rules itself.
Rule 12 (1) (a) states that "If a student has secured an aggregate of minimum 40% marks taking together all the papers in theory examination (including internal assessment/project, wherever applicable) and Practical exam separately, till the end of the third year, i.e. upto the end of the VIth Semester, then she/he shall be awarded the degree in which the student has been admitted."

So here it appears that the student needs to get 40% in aggregate (not in each paper) at the end of her programme (overall in all the six semesters) to get a degree.
But Rule 12 (3) (a) states: "A student who passes all the papers from Semester I to Semester VI examinations will be eligible for the degree."
Here it appears that the student has to pass all the papers. This is a direct contradiction with Rule 12 (1) (a) above.

A further problem arises due to dual nature of assessment (marks and grades). Since each paper is 100 marks, how are 6 credit papers going to be differentiated from 4 credit ones in terms of overall marks. This is easily done in terms of CGPA. But in terms of marks are we supposed to multiply the marks obtained in these papers by 6 or 4 respectively. This was earlier done by variations in total marks (50 0r 100 marks papers). Now because all papers are out of 100, multiplication should be the only way out. Otherwise there will be an anomaly in calculating there overall percentage. This means a student securing 70 in a 100 marks 6 credit paper should be recorded as having scored 420/600 and correspondingly 280/400 in a 4 credit one. The total for each student should be aggregated similarly and this will imply that the maximum aggregate will be 19600 !!! It is of course feasible, but does it make sense to do this? Anyway, the University guidelines are totally silent about this.

It is also pertinent to note that the guidelines nowhere state the internal component of the internal assessments. Two different variants are in place in the current 2nd and 3rd years and we are not sure which one are we to follow for the 1st year batch.

Saturday 8 August 2015

A Detailed critique of the CBCS in Delhi University


The Choice Based Credit System is underway in the “prestigious” University of Delhi and when I use the term underway, it is in the sense that it is going through both theoretical and implementation phase, i.e. it has already been implemented without the necessary theoretical base. What is the Choice Based Credit System and what is its use in Delhi University which had been doing comfortably well in the semester system just after the immediate roll-back of the Four Year Undergraduate program? Why does the university confuse itself with the third year in the revised FYUP program, the second year in the classic (not so classic) semester system and the first year batch in the newly introduced CBCS program? It does not take a trained psychoanalyst to come to the conclusion that the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) along with the Delhi University officials in general and the vice chancellor in particular (whose stay in DU is rather short-lived, mind you) is in dire need of an educational reform, almost to the point of anxiety. Here another question arises that why only the rulers of the university (and the educational policy of the state) are in need of such radical reforms while the student and teacher community has whole-heartedly dissented against the former educational reform in the form of the FYUP. So far as the case presents itself, the mere introduction of the CBCS (let alone its implementation, which I will address later in depth) has rendered all prior structures, i.e. the revised FYUP, the semester system and the CBCS into one entangled loop which hangs over the neck of the entire student population of Delhi University and will result in its slow and torturous death is nothing is done soon. These couple of years will most probably go down in the history as the worst years of DU. The university has reduced itself to the point of being a mere political playground where games are played at the cost of the common students’ future. If one thinks of this statement as exaggerated or superfluous, let me remind him or her of the anti-FYUP struggle which attracted so much political attention that the parties contesting for the Delhi State elections had to address the issue in their election manifesto. Since we are not looking at another state election for some years, the students have to gauge themselves to a political struggle that would bring Delhi Government to a standstill. I will address this point in detail in the later part of my essay.

The Choice Based Credit System is both fresh and apparently nothing new in theory. In fact, the grading system has been working well in certain other universities like JNU, IIT, NIT  and some state universities as well as private universities but only because the grading system had been present in these universities since thee past. The problem with appropriating a grading system like the one they have in IIT or NIT posits a problem because DU does not just offer sciences or commerce courses. It also offers arts courses where a percentage of 60 is much reputed. Now, if we appropriate this 60 in the ten-point cumulative grade point average given by the UGC, it comes to a measly grade of B which is just “above average”. It is no problem, or maybe little problem for science, mathematics and commerce courses but the CGPA system fails in its implication on humanities courses. If sixty percent makes a student merely average, how will he ever, in the current scheme of things prove himself or herself to be very good (i.e. eighty percent, which is out of scope for the marking scheme of humanities courses) or outstanding (ninety to hundred)? So if it is applied in DU as it is, the humanities student will always be just above average or in the rarest cases, good (even though the student is actually outstanding for his/her own course), and the student of sciences or mathematics will, on an average basis always be a very good or even an outstanding student respectfully proven so by the grading system.
Both in its principle as well as its implementation, the grade point system is highly flawed. In JNU, the grade point average works on the basis, and on the premise that it only (or vastly since there is a science as well as a mathematics course) caters to a population pursuing a liberal arts degree. The science (microbiology) and the mathematics (operations research) courses offered by JNU appropriates to the CGPA system by the virtue of them being masters’ courses. It means that the amount of work done corresponds more to practical and research work as well as laboratory tutorials is much more than the final paper. That is not the case in the undergraduate science courses in DU where there already exists an infrastructural problem relating to lab facilities in almost each and every college.
Having briefly discussed one evaluative aspect of the CBCS, we move on to the crux of the matter of which there are two, namely the “credit” and the “choice”, The choice theoretically relates to the American major/minor model and it is indeed its worthless mimic and so the DU officials and the UGC shamelessly try to pass it off as original inventions by merely changing the name of the “minor choice” to “open elective”. What basically happens in the American model is that you can either choose to indulge in a minor course, while doing your discipline honors or do a supportive paper, or credit that links to your discipline course. The problem with its implementation in DU is that it follows a British model of education, much like Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge where there are different colleges following the same syllabus. In the British system, there is no mobility and the student is to do his or her course in his or her college. He enters as a student of, say for the example of Oxford University, Balliol College or Exeter College and stays in the college to complete his or her college degree. The chosen subject is then taught in depth and with great attention to the idea of pursuing the chosen discipline further academically. On the other hand, a student getting into Harvard University is appointed to a school or a centre but owing to the nature of the university, the student can apply for courses, or certain paper outside of his or her discipline in other centers or schools. This is not possible in DU, as it not possible in Oxford or Cambridge because the colleges are not enclosed but are scattered all over the city, and because the college is specifically responsible for a degree and cannot afford to take on itself the burden of furnishing options. This problem is even more exaggerated in Du where the necessary faculty is already lacking. Furthermore, the DU syllabus for the honors course has been diluted from the earlier 18-20 papers to just 14 honors papers simply to accommodate the so-called choices. This is not the case even in the American credit system because the very idea of compromising a discipline paper for optional papers is ludicrous, even more so as the students do not get the choice to elect more papers for the discipline courses. It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul as the CBCS, instead of giving the rightful extra credit to the student for taking the effort to choose an open elective or ‘discipline specific elective’, the program only creates the illusion of doing so while it robs the student of his or her credits that are already designated to the student for his or her honors course. So theoretically, the choice is one of no-choice and on top of that it is against the very choice of the honors course that the student takes when he or she joins the college. There is also the fact to be considered that there will be no added gradation of the opted choices and no provision to change the course or do a dual-major that are the prime characteristics of the American credit system. This is because the university is not equipped to handle such arbitration in terms of giving out a degree.
The practical implications of such a theory, that is already exposed to be a farce is even more farcical because the student is not allowed by DU to take a “discipline specific elective” till his or her fifth semester! In the classic semester system that was/is prevalent in DU (and we hope that it will be), the discipline specific optional papers are given as choices in the third semester itself! So, instead of providing more choices than the semester system, the CBCS takes away the choice of a student to study his or her discipline deeply till the fifth semester and the average student is compelled to take the mediocre generic electives. The real purpose of the generic course is hidden in its very name. The word “generic” seeks, in this case to create a uniformity of ideas or give way to education means applicable to an entire class or group. In this fashion, instead of doing the noble job of cultivating new ideas, the generic elective course seeks to breed conventionality or conformity in students. This opposes the very purpose of the university. The term “choice” therefore does not apply in the true sense and hence can be replaced by what I think more appropriate, i.e. “ordered directive” as the individual colleges of DU hold the right and hence the “order” over the choices.

The second problem with the choice in the CBCS is that of practice. In the generic elective courses, many new inter-disciplinary papers have been introduced along with many core elective papers as well. The core elective papers are discipline centered papers like Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, economics, English, etc. The problem here again is the philosophical “choice of no-choice” or rather the economic inflation of choice. To put it in simple terms, a student of economics, commerce sciences or English will seldom take courses such as Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi and will choose correlative disciplines like economics or English over the former. This will inevitably lead to a crunch of choices wherein on the one hand the introduction of some choices will be futile and on the other hand, some choices will have a massive subscription that would disrupt the proper student-teacher ratio required o hold a functional class properly. The manifestation of this choice of no-choice will be in the form of discrimination in the allotment of choices by the college based on meritocracy and marks of the twelfth grade, which should not be a factor in the taking up of choices in the college, and it is certainly a practical fault of the CBCS which outright reveals its false promises.
Another problem lies in the papers newly introduced such as Global Politics and the UN (which in my view is a neo-imperialist celebration of the US hegemony worldwide under the guide of the UN) and academic writing. The interesting and controversial thing in the introduction of both these papers is that even though they need an inter-disciplinary approach, only one department will be responsible for the implementation of these papers. A paper such as Global Politics and the UN requires not just a political understanding of international relations (which is already taught to students of economics, political science, sociology and history in one form or another in the present semester system) but also a knowledge of nation-state sociology as well as the historical and economic development of nations into global powers. A mere Department of Political Science would be highly unequipped to teach such an emphatic (supposedly emphatic) paper. The same goes for academic writing which is headed by the Department of English. Academic writing is a practice of not only the humanities students but also of the science and mathematics students. English Department might be able to cope, in case of research based writing and analysis, with literariness of the research paper since academic writing deals with the technique of writing a thesis or a research paper. An average professor of English literature is trained in analysis by means of social theories that apply exclusively to literary texts, literary theory, so to say. How will the professor then apply his analytical skills to society for teaching academic writing to students of sociology and economics, let alone to the students of physics, chemistry and mathematics who demand a mathematical proof rather than argumentative ones to substantiate their theses? Hence the notion of choice is flawed in every sense of its implementation.
The second aspect of the CBCS is the issue of the “credit” system for which the UGC has the following definition for a credit:

“A unit by which the course is measured. It determines the number of hours of instruction per-week. One credit is equivalent to one hour of teaching (lectures or tutorial) or two hours of practical work/field work per week.”

 It should be noted right from the start that no university or college all over the world equates credit to the amount of hours spent in a class because the very meaning of it would be absurd. It would mean to earn, say two credits, one needs to attend two classes irrespective of the student’s academic output. The UGC guidelines remark that “the credit based semester system provides flexibility in designing curriculum and assigning credits based on the course content and the hour of teaching” but all it actually does is to confuse the teachers about the system of evaluation and how to “grade” the students. The UGC is in such a hurry to implement the CBCS in DU that it concedes in its own guidelines in the following manner:

“Presently the performance of the students is reported using the conventional system of marks secured in the examinations or grades or both. The conversion from marks to letter grades and the letter grades used vary widely across the HEIs in the country. This creates difficulty for the academia (in the guidelines it is misspelled as ‘acadamia’!) and the employers to understand and infer the performance of the students graduating from different universities and colleges based on grades.”
First of all, it concedes to the fact that the erstwhile percentage based evaluation was working fine and the problems only arose when certain universities (mostly ambitious universities like IITs, NITs and the private universities) turned to grading system feeling a colonial fetish towards the grading system of the New West. In the same tone, the UGC also concedes that students are to be made commodities of the market and sold as intellectual prostitutes when it talks about the difficulty for the “employers” (i.e. the capitalists) to weigh the graduates with a uniform scale similar to the ones used by the whites to evaluate the colored slaves. It can be said of the CBCS that it provides a “cafeteria” approach, though the cafeteria approach is not for the students to enjoy under this system but the capitalist employers for whom the mark sheets will serve as menu and the student will be the main course.
Another draconian implementation of the credit system will be dissolution of the honors papers by an alarming 25% (which we discussed in figures earlier) to facilitate the introduction of the inter-disciplinary papers. The introduction of the additional papers comes from the UGC as a part and parcel of the grading system. If the grading system were to be implemented without the credit system, it would be unwise considering the disparity between the average scores of the sciences and humanities students, but to add the burden of the “so-called optional papers” as instigators to the credit system seems to be the sum of all evils and an absolutely foolish act. With the increase in the optional papers, there will obviously be an increase in evaluations and with the coming of the grade system, the pattern will be that of the CCE or continuous evaluation meaning that the student would have to prepare assignments in order to gain the credits for each week. This would mean the students would have sixteen weeks to make fifteen assignments and thus all the promises of the UGC about the CBCS being a flexible course will go down the gutter and will only seem a distant dream. However, being exposed to this fact, the DU administration and the UGC will lessen the rate of assignments and consign themselves to the previous definition of credit as mentioned in the UGC guidelines which maintains the misconception that the number of hours spent in a class will constitute the number of credits earned by a student. If that will be the case, then there is another pitfall that the UGC and the DU administration will have to encounter, i.e. the issue of passing the students based on written examinations. The current CBCS program has a 50-50 internal-external evaluation pattern. So if the student attends most of his classes and earns forty credits out of fifty, and he earns just twenty in his written examinations, he gets an overall score of seventy which is “very good” according to the CGPA, but the fact remains that he or she has failed in the written examination according to the rules of the university. In his way, through the introduction of the CBCS, we see the crumbling down of an entire evaluation system, instead of a “fairness in assessment” for which the UGC has mandated its guidelines (a concession again!).


In the struggle against CBCS that is to come, one should be reminded of the anti-FYUP struggle in order to draw parallels between both the student movements in order to triumph over CBCS in the same way that the students triumphed over the FYUP. Comparing the nature of the program of FYUP and CBCS, one can say that the FYUP was a lesser oppressive course than the CBCS because under FYUP, a student at least had an extra year to cope with the additional papers. Therefore, in the process of the roll-back of the FYUP program, the foundation courses and other additional courses were fully repealed. In the struggle against CBCS, our demand should be the roll-back of the generic elective and other optional papers that are made compulsory to the students and hence are an assault to the discipline courses that we are supposed to study. So, if the critique is much less the same, our manner of approach towards the CBCS and our general sentiment for it must also be the same, or maybe even more radical because the students are not even provided additional time like in the FYUP.

The main concern to grasp for the students who were against FYUP was the loss of a year. The CBCS program boasts of its completion in the regular three year semester system but we are already aware enough to make an educated opinion from our given premises about the critique of the CBCS program that three years will simply not be enough to complete such a vast course (not that the students should feel the need to complete the course, as they will be studying lesser discipline papers than students from other state universities).
Since much of what is to come under the guise of the CBCS is kept in the dark, the teachers as well as the students should force the institutions and its respective administrations to make a stand on CBCS so that much of our criticism would be realized and we would be able to cite practical references. The students, in this case, if we are successful in making the stance of the administration about the CBCS clear, would be agitated and will begin to be disillusioned as the course reveals its true nature. The students should be ready to resist the impingement of the administration upon their lives in ways such as extra-classes, more assignments than the students are able to do, no room for extra-curricular activities etc y boycotting classes on a mass basis, talking openly about the dictatorial and abusive nature of the CBCS with other students, talking to the college union about the oppressions meted out on the first-year students and joining any protest on a university scale against CBCS.
In any and all cases, whether the agitation regarding CBCS is personal or propagated through the medium of protest should be to repeal all the optional courses for all three years, to shift the assessment system back to the ratio of 75-25 written and internal respectively, to shift from the credit system to the classic semester system and finally to shift the grading system to the percentage system. These are materialistic, achievable goals which when realized together form the most proper alternative to the CBCS program. In the present situation therefore, when we have realized both the immediate and the upcoming affects of the draconian program that is the CBCS, it is time for us students to take matters from the hands of the powers that be (state machinery, the UGC, DU administration, etc.) into our own hands. The time has made immediate extreme and radical measures not only important but also inevitable. It is times like these when the true intellect of students is put to test; intellect that is not only theoretical but also practical and providing the necessary force for the revolutionary transformation of society. For us students, the battle starts right at our very workplace, the university. DU has been passively passed around as a space of sensationalism, philistinism and glamour and it is about time that the University of Delhi builds itself up again as the centre of movements that lead to nation-wide discourses where students decide how the courses are to be formulated and taught and not a bunch of aged stalwarts (lackeys of the capitalists) sitting in the cabinet and ministry. Student majority from the first year up to the third year should be at the forefront of this struggle and prove to the world that it is the people who decide how the system should work as opposed to the system imposing its state ideology on the masses (which is the case with the UGC and MHRD regarding the CBCS program). The struggle will be harder this time as there is no state election in which the bourgeois parties such as the BJP, Congress, AAP and others can raise the issue for their opportunistic gains. Politically, the student movement has to come to so strong a point that its consolidated force will shake the foundations of the AAP government in Delhi and they will be forced to intervene and repeal the CBCS (which is a policy of the central BJP government), since the state government reserves the right to intervene in any prime decision taken by the University of Delhi. We should remember that the tactics we employ, strikes, protests, referendum, signature petition, etc. are exercises to test the strength of our democracy and broaden it. Protests are means of direct engagement of the masses into the formulation of governmental policies and hence are the most democratic means of public involvement. One should not shy away from resorting to these tactics or participating in such events because only by being a part of the greater whole can one experience and become an expression of social consciousness, and through the process, a social being. If the current structure represses our movement with police action and student union corruption (such as the corruption of the ABVP-led DUSU that is responsible for bringing the CBCS in DU!) we shall reject such structures in order to create a new one. The student community has to be uncompromising in its demand because we are drawing the last straw. Education is central to culture and society and a resignation to opportunist, market-oriented and dictatorial regime would mean that the larger society would very well be going in the same totalitarian de-humanizing prostitution of labor. If we, as the youth of the nation, do not take our stance now, then history will never forgive us. We need to do all we can to resist such an apocalyptic future and pay all in- body and soul for the will to fight and fight to win!