Does CGPA really matter?

For the records, the oldest surviving University in the world was founded 859 AD here in Africa.In 1785, Yale University became the first institution to adopt a grading system in the world. The tree whose seed was planted can be visibly beheld today but with an influence fast dwindling.
Today more than 1000 Universities adopt the CGPA grading system.

The CGPA grading system is one which calculates the overall grade of a student cumulatively as implied in its name – Cumulative Grade Point Average. Most Universities in the western hemisphere and my university (University of Ibadan) adopt this system based on a 4.0 scale.

The CGPA system no doubt encourages hard work and competition amongst students. The survival of the fittest, they call it but it happens that on the long run, the fittest does not survive it. Adversely, the proponents of this system had succeeded in making students better recorders of information in lieu of becoming information analysers.

My point is not to discredit the CGPA method or try to expose its demerits because all grading systems whether it be CGPA, GPA or pass/ fail method, even the non-usage of grades has its merits and demerits. Trying to exude the cons of CGPA will only lead to an infinite tussle of argument.
Therefore, I plan to examine the phenomenon of grading itself.

Not to label it good or bad but to weigh its relevance in the age we have found ourselves.Relevance is the bone of contention. How relevant is one’s CGPA in the 21st century? To what extent does the procurement of good grades guarantees success or failure, usefulness or uselessness?
To start with, I must affirm that the letch for good grades in the Nigerian society started way back in the early 20th century when the few educated elites were able to fill the work force comfortably as they were little and competition was less.

As many saw the need to obtain formal education, competition soared, employments slots –the reason for the sudden interest in education became filled up. The race to get a job became fiercer and grade segregation became a needed tool to sift potential employees. Not too long, low grades translated to poor quality of life and limited employment opportunities.
‘Use what you have to get what you want.’ Here is the voice of the Nigerian society beckoning on her booming young population in various institutions to “excel” and “graduate with flying colours” by any means necessary in order to attain social security. Practically, the society has little or nothing to offer these hapless beings but seek to engage them in a never ending race of academic competition at least to salve their frustrations and grant them an illusion of hope in the attainment of good grades.

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This has manifested in the desperate deeds of students to ace by all means necessary –sex for grades, cheat for grades, cram for grades, lobby for grads, bribe for grades, etcetera. In every Nigerian institution with no exemption, two or more of these practices pervade.

It is true that there is no society where good grades have not been over-hyped since 1785. Grading had been an efficient winnowing tool to detect the “most likely to succeed” students. In the 20th century, the third world could be seen leading in grading obsession ratings. It is quite understandable as she was just experiencing western education in full fledge and had not fully explored it. Countries like India and my fatherland embraced western education and sent their youths to school with a pervasive mind set of aiming good grades while countries like China, Singapore and Japan at that time embraced western education as well, encouraged excellence but were never obsessed with western education or its grades.

In such countries, innovation, not grades marks excellence. 21st century shows the stark difference between both groups of nations despite having being at the same stage of development during the 1900s. Progressive nations like the US have gotten the exact relevance of grading. Armstrong J. Scott (2012) in a research “National learning in higher education” opines that the relationship between grades and job performance in the US is low and becoming lower in recent studies.

If not grading, what criterion can we then say holds the supposed level of relevance in the 21st century? According to a Journal titled, The role of higher education in career development: Employee’s perception (Dec 2012), the order of considerations in employability are ;

  1. Internships and/or work experience
  2. Volunteering
  3. Choice of extracurricular activity
  4. Relevance of course work
  6. College reputation.

It is quite disheartening that Nigerian scholars in various institutions of learning have been made to believe the last three of these considerations are the top three. By the aforementioned order, it is a case of misplaced priority to make grades the number one spot on the list. Barrack Obama in his address at Wakefield high school Valedictory on September 8, 2009:

 “Every single one of you has something to offer, you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide. You could be a great writer, maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in the newspaper but you might not know it until you write that English class paper. Maybe you could be an innovator or inventor, maybe even good enough to come up with the new iPhone or the new medicines or vaccines but you might not know it till you do your project for your science class. Maybe you could be a Mayor, a Senator, or a Supreme court Justice but you might not know until you join Students’ government or the debate team. …………….You’ll need the knowledge and problem solving skills you learned in Science and Maths to cure cancer and AIDs and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insight and critical thinking skills you gain in History or social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy. We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and your intellect so you can help us hold folks off our most difficult problems.”

  Here is what the President of the most prosperous country on earth perceive as needed for  the juvenile generation of his state. What do we have to say to our upcoming generation?

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In every sector, Africa has been termed ‘lagging behind in the development cycle’. Imagine holding dear the 18th century western values in the 21st century. Now, the western society has metamorphized out of the larva of grades’ obsession and now flies on the wings of innovation, creativity and intelligence. In fact, according to a Wall street journal on the 2nd April, 2004, Ivy league and Brown University stopped calculating GPA.
As I stated earlier, my point is not to paint grading good or bad but to reveal its relevance as opposed to the predominant Nigerian perspective. Now, on the way forward, Nigerian scholars need to get priorities right to be able to thrive in the global economy. Students need to apply for internships, gain work experience even before entering the labour market officially. Students need to volunteer, participate in extracurricular activities be it sports, debating, journalism, students polity, arts performing, programming etc. Students need to choose their course of study based on their strength and not based on popular opinions. Then, students need aim grades, they are needed to prove what students are made of.
We need to build a sense of value around our Institutions so that they may stop churning out good memorizers with certificates alone. We hope to build a world where critical thinking is encouraged and then innovation shall thrive. The global society does not expect less from us.


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