IN the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, education had to be conducted online due to schools and universities being closed as part of movement restriction measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. Many universities and students were unprepared for online learning, with students having difficulties accessing online classes. As such, higher education institutions in the United States, including Ivy League universities, adopted a pass/fail grading system.
There are different variations of this grading format, including mandatory pass/fail, pass/no record, and optional pass/fail. It differs from one university to another as it is based on the university and their students’ situation. For example, Stanford University implemented a credit/no credit grade, while Yale College adopted a universal pass/fail policy.
Earlier this year in Malaysia, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) introduced an optional approach to the pass/fail grading system.
Students were given two options: to maintain the existing grading system or select grading based on excellent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. If the students chose the latter, the calculation of their grade point average (GPA) would not be affected.Given these options, students who wanted to increase their GPA or required letter grades for scholarship applications and so on could choose to maintain the existing grading system. Others could opt for the pass/fail grading system, especially students who were struggling academically and facing other difficulties in this pandemic
It is essential for other local universities to adopt a similar system as it is a progressive step for education in the future. It would also benefit students in the short and long term.
In the short term, it could safeguard the mental health of students. A report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that 29.8% of university students in Malaysia are experiencing anxiety because of restrictions. Moreover, according to the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA), the number of people seeking help for stress-related problems in 2020 recorded a two-fold increase compared to 2019.
The pandemic has affected some students because on top of studying, they also need to work part-time to help their family. To worsen the condition, some are struggling to get good Internet connection, buy devices for online learning and find a conducive learning area to take part in classes.
Faced with all these challenging circumstances, they are still pressured to do well in their studies to maintain their GPA.
Some might suggest taking a gap semester or gap year, but in this time of uncertainty, no one knows how long the duration of the gap should be. In short, allowing students to take the pass/fail grading option would relieve them of some of their stress.
Furthermore, adopting this grading system would align universities with the future of the job market that is rapidly changing. In recent years, companies have started to invest in people with skills and would be inclined to recruit employees who have holistic job skills such as creative problem-solving skills, a collaborative mindset, leadership qualities and an ability to deal with complex issues.
Implementing this grading system will set the foundation for students to do self-regulated learning. They will then have more time to do self-development and join extracurricular activities.
It would be a small change in the grading system, but a gigantic leap for the future of education.
Faculty of Education, UiTM