Local universities should introduce pass/fail grading systems

Everyday, we often hope that  this pandemic is going to get better and the number of cases will get lower. Nonetheless, the reality of Malaysia is that the positivity rate is on the rise and the number of cases  has reached an all-time high.


 It is not a shocking reality, when Malaysians are currently experiencing pandemic fatigue due to the prolonged public health crisis.

Due to this pandemic, it had heavily affected the lifestyle of university students. No physical lecture, no offline programmes, no regular meet up with friends and so on. All of this was then adapted to an online platform.


During the early times of this pandemic, students and universities were unprepared to go online and some experienced difficulties in accessing online classes. In light of the problems, many universities in the United States including Ivy leagues universities had introduced a pass/fail grading system.


There are a lot of different variations that exist under this grading format. There is mandatory pass/fail, pass/no record, optional pass/fail and many more. It is different from one university to another because it is based on the university and their student situation. For example, Stanford University had implemented credit/no credit grade while Yale College had adopted a universal pass/fail policy. 


Earlier this year in Malaysia, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) introduced an optional approach to pass/fail grading systems. Students were given two options, either to maintain the existing grading system or select grading based on Excellent, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory. If the students were to choose the latter, it will not affect their GPA calculation.


By providing students with these options, students who wanted to push their GPA or required letter grades for scholarship and so on could choose to maintain the existing grading system. While others can opt for the pass/fail grading system, especially students who are struggling academically and having difficulties in this pandemic.


It is essential for other local universities to follow this step as it is a progressive step towards education of the future. Consequently, it also will also give benefits towards the students in the short and long term. 


In the short term, it could improve student mental health conditions. A report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, had found that 29.8 percent of university students in Malaysia are experiencing anxiety because of lockdown.


Moreover, according to Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA), the number of people who seek help related to stress during 2020 has recorded a two-fold increase compared to 2019.  Cases of depression and suicide had also seen a rise since the movement control.


This has affected some students because on top of studying, they need to work part-time to help their family, do house chores and many more. To worsen the condition, some are struggling with internet connection, devices and finding a conducive learning place to attend online classes.


With all these challenging circumstances, students were still pressured to excel in their studies to maintain their GPA. If they do not attain their desired result, it will have an impact on their future. 


Some might suggest taking a gap semester or gap year, but in this time of uncertainty, no one could predict how much longer will the pandemic affect us and how long of a gap needed to be taken. In short, when students are allowed to take the pass/fail grading option, it could reduce their stress to strive for excellence while still letting them continue to study.


On the other hand, when universities adopt this grading system, it will be in line with the future of the job market that is rapidly changing. From a young age, we were told that college degrees were sufficient in entering a career market, but is it true that a degree is all we need to land a job?


In recent years, companies have started to invest in people with skills. Examples of these companies are Google, IBM and EYP. Companies will be inclined to recruit employees that have holistic job skills such as creative problem-solving skills, collaborative mindset, leadership and ability to deal with complexity. 


By no means should this be a reason to stop students from taking college degrees instead it shows that a college degree can’t secure a job in this rapid market and students need to possess other skills.


Through implementing this grading system, it will set the foundation for students to do self- regulated learning. Students will have more time online to do self-development and to join extracurricular activities.


In conclusion, local universities need to provide students the option to choose a pass/fail grading system as it could tremendously reduce their burden while equipping the students for the job market. A small change in the grading system, a gigantic leap to the future of education.


Danial Farook
Harmoni Malaysia Activist
Faculty of Education UiTM

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