One of the things our educational system is getting exposed in this pandemic is how ineffective its grading system is. It has always been. But with students complaining how online classes are now just about submitting tasks more than actually learning, and with teachers finding it hard to respond to the demands of their workloads, the problems on our grading practices have become even more pronounced.

More than a problem, however, the way that we grade students is a reflection of where our educational system is really geared towards and what forces really influence, shape, and ultimately benefit from it.

Our grading system is not very different from identifying which cogs work best for a certain machinery. We create ideal characteristics, quantify these characteristics, rate, sort, select, and discard. Teachers are demanded to grade objectively. Students are commanded to deliver. And while this seems to be the most efficient way to identify who “passes” and who “fails”, it disregards the human aspect of education. In fact, it is this obsession with efficiency and production that reveals how misplaced the priority of our education system is.

How do we objectively grade students in the first place? What does it mean to be objective? Do we deny the influence of socio-economic standing, class, and learning style for the sake of objective grading? What does it mean when students are asked to produce an output? What is an output? Is an output devoid of influences of privilege, power, and access to resources? And is there a grading system dictated by numbers, rubrics, and quantifiers that can take into account privilege, power, and access to resources?

Aside from ignoring material conditions that surround students, our number grading system, with grades being deliberately used as indicators of success, make students lose sight of what the purpose of learning is. Give students additional points for something that is totally unrelated to the subject like bringing a box of floor wax and they will avail of it without asking why these points are given in the first place. This is a symptom of how learning has become a mere collection of points than actually making sense of the world.

This is why teachers are now urged to give feedbacks more than grades, to provide scaffolds and formative assessments more than evaluation tools that quantify students’ performance, and to maintain constant communication to and monitoring of students. While this attempt to make learning more human, to stray away from the typical grading system, is indeed ideal, it is not something that can be easily done.

With the typical teacher-student ratio being one is to 40 (in fact worse in most public schools), how can a teacher give feedback to each student? With our condensed curriculum that makes it almost impossible to thoroughly discuss concepts, how can a teacher spend time to monitor each student? With our lack of resources and compensation, how can a teacher reach out to students to understand their situation? And how can students ignore the “importance” of grades when acceptance to universities and various scholarships are based on merits? How can students not submit to the existing grading system when they are conditioned to think their future depends heavily on it?

Changing any aspect of an educational system in an attempt to make teacher-student relationship more human is impossible when the system itself is designed to dehumanize individuals. What is worse is that this neoliberal approach makes actors of education blame one another instead of recognizing the larger enemy.

Our educational system does not exist in a vacuum. It is not free from the influence of the ruling class whose goal is to maintain its status and produce workers for its own benefit. Its characteristics are not different from that of other structures in our society: privatized, oppressive, and dehumanizing. As this pandemic reveals more and more of these characteristics, we are then made to question whose interest does our educational system serve and, ultimately, how can we, as a collective, contribute to changing the very nature of our education. (

Reil teaches calculus and physics to senior high school students. He is a member of the Davao Writers Guild and was a former editor-in-chief of Atenews, the official student publication of Ateneo de Davao University. Some of his works of fiction have been published in Likhaan, the Philippines Graphic, and the Brown Orient.

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