Reverting Back to ‘Percentage System’ in Evaluating Students’ Performance in Myanmar Universities

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  • Dr. Myint Zan

The National Education Strategic Plan was launched at Nay Pyi Taw on 23 February 2017. It is heartening to learn the plan.
In this brief note I would write on one particular aspect of evaluation of performance of students in all University courses in Myanmar at the undergraduate level. To the best of this writer’s knowledge since the then ‘New Education system’ was adopted in the year 1964, all evaluation of performance of students in all Myanmar Universities in all disciplines and subjects is through the ‘Grade System’: that is Grade 1 being the lowest and Grade 5 being the highest.
From this writer’s firm memory ‘Grade 1’ is considered to be a bad failure. ‘Grade 2’ is a bare pass for minor subjects (i.e. subjects in which the student does not major) but it is a failure for a subject a student “majors” or specializes in. Say, a student majors or specializes in law. He or she needs to get a ‘Grade 3’ to pass in all law subjects but for minor subjects like logic and economics a ‘Grade 2’ would suffice to pass. (At least that was the situation a few decades ago though I am not sure about now).
Ostensibly the use of the Grading system as well as the majoring system adopted in what was then touted as the ‘New Education system’ in 1964 was taken in whole or in part from the then Soviet Union or former ‘socialist democracies’ of Eastern Europe.
Since 1990 until recently the writer has taught mainly law subjects and also a few law-related subjects in nine Universities in Australia, Malaysia and the South Pacific. None of the Universities uses the (shall we say) anomalous Grade 1 to Grade 5 system which I understand is still used in most undergraduate courses in Universities in Myanmar after more than 50 years.
Instead they use the percentage system out of 100 and then give alphabetical numeric to indicate the ‘Grade’.
For example, in a University in Malaysia where the writer had taught until recently marks that can be given on students’ performance range from alpha-numeric F (bad failure; below 40 marks to C minus (46 to 49 marks) B minus, B and B plus (60 to 74 marks) to A minus to A to A plus (75 to 79 marks A minus, 80 to 89 A and 90 and above A plus).
The writer believes that this system of initially marking out of 100 marks and then giving alphabetical (instead of the number Grade 1 to Grade 5) is less arbitrary (when and how does Grade 3 pass ‘transform” into Grade 4 ‘credit’? ) gives more nuanced if not exactly precise evaluation of the students’ course work and exam performances.
The writer realizes that changing the entrenched system of ‘Grading’ to alpha-numeric percentile system could not perhaps be that easily implemented but as a few of my former students said after answering my exam questions it is ‘doable’.
To directly quote and paraphrase from a slogan during the 2015 elections, it is time to change or revert back to the pre-1964 percentile-based student evaluation system of old with some innovations during the implementation phase of the National Strategic Education plan.
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