The Mad Chase After CGPA

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Students in universities naturally find themselves inclined towards joining the race for attaining that all elusive 4.0 CGPA. The impetus is simple: the higher the CGPA, the better the job. But is that really a fact we all must agree to blindfolded? We find out.

s Aila took the short walk from the waiting area towards the interview room, there was only one thing on her mind: “No one can take this job away from me”. After all, her confidence was well placed. She had managed a 4.0 cumulative grade point average in a tough degree at a tough university and been on the deans merit list since, forever. “What else could an employer want?” She chuckled.  As she settled in the seat, the middle woman man sitting across the table pulled up a courtesy smile. Routine greetings followed as the interviewer scanned Aila’s printed resume. “You have really done great in academics, I see,” the lady spoke after a few seconds.

“Bingo!” went Aila’s mind. “I have her impressed without even saying a word!” she thought. “So, tell me more about yourself,” the lady probed. Aila cleared her throat. “I have done my Bachelor’s in marketing with a 4.0 CGPA and have been on the dean’s honor list since the first semester. I want to become part of this organization to enhance….”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Aila’s well-rehearsed intro was brought to a sudden halt by the interviewer. “I know about your academic feats, tell me something about yourself,” the lady added.

For a split second, Aila was lost. In the next split second, she was fuming inside. “About myself? Well I just told you I am a 4.0 CGPA topper who broke all university academic records! Do I need say more?” Aila shouted in her head. “I want to know more about you as a person,” the lady probed further. Aila collected herself. “Ma’am I am very hard working and have always focused on doing the best in academics. It was my dedication that let be on the dean’s list for a record eight semesters, the most in the history of my university.” The lady raised her palm from the table, letting Aila know once again to stop. “Young lady, let’s move to some other question.” 

Aila’s walk out of the room was much different than what she had expected. She had no clue anymore about how well she had done. “The interviewer seemed unimpressed,” she thought. “But, I have a four point…” Aila wondered. And as she had feared, she never heard back from the organization in the following weeks. 

CGPA Story

Aila’s story might sound unfortunate to some, but the truth of the matter is, such situations are happening in and around the corporate world almost on a daily basis. Students with academic aces up their sleeves, piles of medals for various academic feats and grades that seem out of this world are often faced with a shocking reality that CGPA is only a small ingredient of a long recipe that employers devise while choosing human resource that they seem fit for the organization. Yes, it will help you set yourself apart on the paper, it will get you the call for that interview, and yes; it will make you a high potential probability in the eyes of head hunters. But if CGPA is the only thing, and the only aspect of you, that you are banking on to land a job of your dreams, you have another thing coming. 

The evidence of this comes from a study conducted by Naqeebz Consultancy earlier this year. Titled Graduate Employability: Employers’ Perception Survey Report 2018, the study surveyed 212 organizations that employ over 500,000 people collectively in one of the first surveys of its kind in Pakistan. According to the stats complied by Naqeebz, 78% of Pakistani employers were dissatisfied with university graduates. The stats further revealed that 82% of employers did not hire applicants based on their grades. The report cited a majority of employers as suggesting that senior leaders were unhappy with the inability of the fresh graduates to justify their high grades even at the initial level of hiring process, like interviews and assessments. That might be a representation of Aila’s case.

Naqeebz Consulting CEO Muhammad Moazam Shahbaz told Academia Magazine that 82% respondents/employers saying they did not hire people based on their grades was a big number and showed that grades or CGPA mattered less. The biggest factor contributing to securing a job was how the candidates performed during the interview and in what way they conducted themselves during the interview and responded to questions put before them.  But Shahbaz also gave a clue to why students in every university have only CGPA on their minds. “Many industries, including multi-nationals, have a minimum CGPA hiring requirement – usually 3 or above. “Better CGPA can sometimes get a graduate hired, but what mattered most later was professional acumen and experience. Nobody bothers about CGPA after some time.” 

Inflated Demand

The quest for attaining a high CGPA is not entirely a student’s misplaced desire. It is a result of years and years of mental drilling by the society that has made high marks the only criteria of judging a person’s knowledge, capability and value. Just like in every other aspect of our society where tangible, observable feats are the yardstick for progress, the cause of learning and knowledge has also been reduced to marks and/or CGPA. A 3.0 CGPA student is right away considered inferior to one with 3.5. It doesn’t matter if the 3.5 student knows far less in real terms than his “inferior” counterpart; what matters is the number.

And in an educational system that trains students to only focus on achieving high marks through tricks like selective preparation, rote learning and “answer-attempting tricks”, one cannot simply accept the fact that a higher CGPA means higher knowledge without a pinch of salt. This inflated demand for higher and higher grades is evident everywhere you look and in every stream you take a gander at. Matriculation, higher secondary level, annual system, semester system, colleges, universities… the grades and marks students keep achieving every passing year keep becoming more and more interstellar. Still the absence of learning and the general lack of innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in the society remains an unexplained enigma. 

By hook or by crook, the end result has to be higher marks to survive amidst the ‘competition’. That is all education has really become nowadays. A dazed run towards an elusive target that is 4.0. Learning and knowledge can take a hike.

Dr Nasreen, dean at Karachi University’s Chemistry Department, believes the mad chase after CGPA is misplaced. “I believe everyday there is something new to learn. It is the responsibility of a teacher to motivate the students towards learning and character building. For this, teachers need to better themselves and be focused. Cramming books merely for chasing grades or improve CGPA creates a negative impact on students. Intelligence cannot be measured by how good a student’s CGPA is. The world around us is making spectacular improvements in education and we are only focusing on the grading system to analyze the intelligence of a student. This is not healthy, but creates a negative impact.”

And CGPA necessarily does not work for very discipline you choose to study. Celebrated painter Dr Aijaz Anwer said, “When it comes to arts, talent has to be inborn. In West and over here too, there are many artists who are not even trained for it. Degree or grading system is not important for an artist to be good. A person with low grades might be a great artist. There are many college drop outs who turned out to be true artists. The grading system has been introduced to carry out a competition between the students, which in my view, is not healthy.”

Making The Grade

In Pakistan, grade point average is a system sanctioned by Higher Education Commission to evaluate students for one course or semester. But does the system in Pakistan conform to international standards? Dr Attaur Rahman, founding chairman of HEC thinks otherwise. “The international CGPA system is way ahead of our local system. I would have recommended HEC to use the International one, but there are some areas of subjects over here which do not fit in that system due to which local system is recommended. Universities over here are only guiding the students to complete the programs, due to which there are a number of PhDs without having adequate knowledge of the subject. Such kind of things reflect the weakness of the program.”

But there are more problems than mere conformity of CGPA. Dr Hafiz Iqbal, former dean of education at Punjab University believes that the present grading system “in the universities is a well-established system which reflects the ability of a student”, but the problem lies elsewhere.

He said, “In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the grading system. The system can cater to manage grades if students don’t have any fundamental knowledge of the subject at the end of the semester. The problem is more about how scripts of students are analyzed by the teachers. In my opinion, a teacher who is unable to teach, is also unable to assess students. Nowadays, there is an unsaid alliance between a student and a teacher for a particular course in which if a student attends the lecture or not, completes the assignments or not, he/she is given a passing grade by the teacher just for the sake of that teacher’s job or goodwill.”

Despite CGPA being the only criteria according to which universities rate or grade students, those running the academic show also appear to be not fully satisfied by the way the grading system works.

University of Engineering and Technology Lahore Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Mansoor Sarwar said he believed the present grading system was “neither too fine grained nor too coarse grained”. “I think of it just another system to indicate the cumulative academic performance of a student. It isn’t used as a measure to assess a student’s intelligence,” he said.

However, Dr Sarwar did say that CGPA mattered when the time came to secure a job. “CGPA matters for starting a career as well as during studies. Most companies do not interview students with CGPA less than a cut-off value, say 3.0. However, there are companies like Google and Amazon that hire people who do not even have a university degree.”

On the other hand, Dr Ryan Brasher, head of Political Science Department at FCCU said CGPA was also important for further graduate studies in Pakistan, and even overseas. “Beyond procedural necessity, I believe CGPA is an important indicator of:

    1. Consistency of student effort in coming to class regularly – students who don’t attend my classes on a regular basis generally get very poor grades and often fail.
    2. Consistency of student effort in terms of completing reading assignments, studying for exams, and writing research papers.”

But Dr Brasher also pointed out some issues with the CGPA system. “Of course, there are some problems.

1) Not every faculty member has the same standards – some grade easily, some harder.

2) Furthermore, generally speaking, certain disciplines and departments give easier grades compared to others. At FCC, for instance, it is harder to get a higher CGPA in economics, I think, as compared to mass communication.”

Takeaway

So while it is perfectly normal for any student to be engaged in the noble pursuit of securing a high CGPA, it should not become the reason for your existence and your life. In the real world and beyond your first job, your CGPA would hardly define you or your worth to your boss or organization. What will make you stand apart from the rest will be your grit, your perseverance, your attitude to get things done, your ability to adapt, the ability to learn from mistakes and to learn, just for the sake of improving.

A 4.0 in the real world would require much more than reproducing some textbook stuff from memory. It would require you to be good at understanding, good at applying that which you understood, good at evaluating the cons and taking calculated risks, good at listening, good at learning and learning quickly; quick witted, be affable, be helpful, be a team player, and sometimes, simply brave enough to able to carry the weight of failures and move on.

CGPA is a reality of academic life and one that must be respected. But there is no need for making CGPA your life.