Grading Systems in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions; Searching for the Right Standard

The standard for Academic Grading in Nigerian tertiary institutions has been on a long searching voyage to find the one true Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) method. The debate is ongoing and every institution has its own way of picking a standard best suited for it, with reasons best known to them. As a result, I have seen different methods of computing the CGPA from my experience in different institutions.

The 5 point CGPA is adopted by most of the universities. However, there are some variations in the grades and method of computation. Some experts may say some of the methods are errors and not variations, but I leave that for them to clarify.

Just in the last few years, there are a lot of controversies on the grading system in our universities. The National Universities Commission (NUC) initially abolished the Pass Degree with effect from 2013/2014 session, which means that the minimum pass mark for courses in the universities will now be 45 percent, (Grade D with 2 grade points) instead of 40 percent which was a grade E with 1 point. This also signifies that the minimum class of degree is now 3rd class.

While some universities have adopted the new format and others are still reluctant on that, the Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie, made remarks in September, 2015 at a workshop on review of grading system in Nigerian universities, where he expressed his worries that two systems of grading have been introduced within the Nigerian university system which has technical implications on the grading of students.

But in reality, there are even more grading systems that the NUC president may not even be aware of. We have worked with some universities, where they have A, B+, B, C+, C, D, E and F with grading points 5, 4.5, 4, 3.5, 3, 2, 1 and 0 respectively.

FlexiSAF, as a solution provider, usually delivers based on the requirements given. The FlexiSAF Students’ Records Management System (SRMS) which was designed to be flexible from the onset, is able to handle the different methods of grading and situations at hand.

SRMS also help the institutions to solve some of the problems, which initially was not thought of. For example, when the new grading system was introduced by NUC (which does not have grade E), SRMS was configured to use the old format for returning students and the new format for new students.

When this format was introduced to us by one of our clients, we asked them some questions like: “What about the Direct Entry (DE) students that will meet their mates as returning students? Will the new grading format affect them or will they use the old format?”. “What if the returning 200L students have carried over some of the 100L courses, will the new grading be applied to those courses or the old one?”

Most of the time, there are no answers to these questions and they have to deliberate on them first.

It is important for NUC and other bodies such as National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) and National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) to look at the implications of these changes and provide answers to rising questions.

Even with the same standard, I have seen different interpretations by different institutions, some of which were obviously wrong. In one of the institutions, we found out that for several years they were taking simple average of semester GPAs to arrive at the CGPA of students. Sure! That was for real, and the members of staff were highly confident in their method. It had to be series of discussions and presentations before they realized the error they were making.

SRMS has now become a tool in every school we work with to verify their results.

“No Double Counting”

I have also come across a method where students do not get penalized for failing their courses. The method is called “No Double Counting”. In this approach, it means even if you attempt a particular course 4 times and fail and then finally pass with an “A” on the fifth time, your CGPA will only reflect the passed grade (A) and will not be affected with the fail grades of the initial four attempts.

I first encountered this method in one of the universities in 2007. The wisdom behind this method, as they say, is to minimize the number of poor degrees awarded. Even though, I am not sure whether this is an approved standard, but I have raised a number of questions that were never answered.

The first flaw in this system is that it is not fair to the students that passed a course with a lower grade such as C or D in their first attempt.

Another flaw in this system is in the presentation of the students’ transcripts and the computation of the final CGPA. In order to get the arithmetic correct, you either eliminate the failed courses in the transcript or make the course units of such courses to be zero. Using the elimination method, it means that the student’s transcript will not show any courses that he attempted and failed but only the final attempt which he passed.

In the second method, it is awkward to have a course with 0 unit when in its actual sense it has a higher value.

I have also experienced a number of schools that unknowingly adopt the “No Double Counting” standard due to the limitation of their software. When a student passes a course he initially failed, the new grade will then be replaced with his former grade.

Summer Semester

It is definitely not news at all on the rate of failure in Exams in Nigeria, from secondary to tertiary institutions. Just as how common the failure rate is in WAEC or NECO, it is also common in our tertiary institutions. It is not strange for more than 50% of students for a particular course to fail the course. The debate on whether the blame should be on the student, lecturer or the system is a topic for another discussion.

In any way, the failure rate is also a factor that gives birth to new standards. The “No Double Counting” standard was as a result of low CGPAs attained by students.

Summer Semester is another attempt by some institutions to assist students. The idea of the semester is to give students the opportunity to clear their carry over courses (which usually become unbearable). Unlike the “Short Semester” in schools outside Nigeria (or in American standards like in American University of Nigeria) which is similar to normal semester but with a shorter duration, the summer semester is dedicated only for carry over courses.

The summer semester also did have its implications. The grade scored which is supposed to replace the initially failed grade has a similar problem to that of “No Double Counting”. A student that scores “A” in the summer semester is favoured over a student that score a lower grade in his first attempt.

To solve this issue in a particular university, it was resolved that the highest grade a student can score in the summer semester is a “D”.

Many institutions have tried the summer semester and gave up due to issues like this.

Probation

If you ask me what is the approved criteria for probation and I mean to be honest with my answer I would simply reply that I don’t know. Because I never bothered to understand the details when I was in the university and it is one of the issues that have the most diverse interpretations, it becomes difficult to identify the right interpretation.

During our course of work with schools, I have seen at least 10 variations of the Probation. The best approach we adopted to solve this issue is to make SRMS flexible to accommodate the requirement of any school.

One of the versions depicts that if a student has CGPA less than 1 in two semesters (irrespective of first or second semester and whether it is consecutive or not), he goes into probation. The second version interprets that if a student has CGPA less than 1 at the end of the session (second semester), he goes into probation.

Another version says that until a student gets CGPA less than 1 in two consecutive semesters before he gets into probation. Another similar version does not put 1st semester, 100L into consideration.

Also, with the new grading format introduced by NUC, some universities have updated the CGPA for probation to 2 while others still maintain 1.

All of the above are interpretations for universities. The same goes with polytechnics and colleges, where almost every institution has their own version.

The amazing thing, however, is that majority refer to the NUC, NBTE or NCCE standards with different interpretations.

Repeat!

This is a standard that does not actually come from NUC. Carry over, probation and withdrawal are supposed to control students’ progress and graduation period. Some universities, such as Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi, have other means of control. Students that have carry overs of at least 13 units cannot proceed for Industrial Training which is usually in 400 level. Also, students from the faculty of engineering cannot proceed to 200 level (engineering complex) if they have carry overs of at least 7 units.

However, due to the high rate of carry overs, some universities introduced “Repeat” where a student is asked to repeat a particular level. With the number of unsurmountable carry overs for some students, it is difficult to even determine their level (level-less) as the carry over courses span across all the levels.

The idea of the “Repeat” is to prevent that kind of “level-less” situation from occurring. If a student has a number of carry overs, he is not allowed to proceed to the next level and cannot enroll any higher level course(s).

When the NUC boss was making remarks during the workshop in September, he expressed his worry over the high rate of poor degrees earned by students, which was the main reason of abolishing the Pass degree.

He explained that students should enroll (or be transferred) to the appropriate programs, which have the capacity to excel instead of graduating with poor grades from the program they don’t have the capacity.

I am a strong supporter of quality education where students excel and become authorities in their respective fields. Even though, having standards that will help in driving good grades are important, the most important issue is to overhaul the education system from the current mess it is in now. Also position Nigeria towards achieving quality education for all. Manipulating the grading system in order to favour students get better grades that they cannot defend should, from all perspectives, be discouraged.

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