It’s the time of the year when children, teenagers and young adults graduate from elementary, high school and college. In the Philippines, nowadays, so many parents are elated and extremely proud of their children who graduate with honors, as cum laudes or with various awards such as the Most Diligent Pupil or the Most Creative Student.
This April, there was a news feature about a teacher in Mindanao who drew portraits of her students – all 59 of them – as her reward to her students who were graduating high school with honors. (See story here.) Fifty-nine honor students? How can that happen? When I was in the elementary, there was a maximum number of honor pupils — THREE per class. In my high school, out of 440 students in the afternoon session, 5 were honor students — the Valedictorian, Salutatorian and three Honorable Mentions. That was it. I was in the afternoon session. The morning session had about the same number of students and 5 honor students.
What happened? How can there be so many honor students? In one school where I taught, practically every other student graduate with magna, summa or just cum laude. How could this happen?
Sometime in the 1980s, Philippine schools started using Transmutation Tables. These are “magical tables” imposed by the government to be used in public schools. But the private schools followed suit. The government agency in charge of education created the transmutation tables to increase the grades of students without anybody outside the schools noticing anything amiss.
The universal practice of schools pegs the passing grade at 75%. Anything below 75% is FAIL. Seventy-five percent (75%) is equivalent to a grade of C. But for some reasons, (perhaps their own children could not get a grade of C or 75 and above), government officials decided that for public schools, 50% was the new passing grade. But making 50 as the new passing grade would not be easy to explain to the public. Since the 1900s, Philippine educational system used C and 75 as the standard passing grades. And schools abroad would probably look down on Filipino graduates with a Grade Point Average of less than 75% or C or its equivalent and will not accept Filipinos in their school. So the Philippine education officials instituted the Transmutation Table.
With the transmutation table, a raw score or initial grade of 50 would be magically turned to 75, the passing mark! While Filipino students since the 1900s had to get a score of 75% to pass, children in the new system needed only to get a score of 50% to make them pass. A score of 75, which before would give the student a passing mark of 75, would now get a very high grade of 88! While before, if a pupil/student got a score of 75, s/he would be mocked as getting a “pasang awa” (passed due to pity) grade; in the new system, s/he would get a grade of 88 and would therefore be praised by their parents/guardians or everyone else.
A raw score of 80 would get the student a grade of 90! Thus, it is certainly possible for all students in a class to graduate as cum laudes. But before the time of the Transmutation Tables, even if every student gets a grade of 90 and above, only 3 could be honor pupils in the elementary and 5 honor graduates in high school. But apparently, nowadays, a whole class can graduate with honors!
K + 12
Perhaps President Noynoy Aquino’s best achievement was the implementation of the K+12 curriculum for elementary and high school. The Philippines was the last holdout of the 10-year elementary and high school program. Everywhere in the world, elementary and high school consist of 12 years, with additional years for nursery, kindergarten and prep. President Aquino, despite massive opposition, had the political will to impose a 12-year elementary and high school program plus a year of kindergarten.
President Aquino also mandated the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to reclassify universities into colleges and professional schools if they do not meet certain standards to qualify as a university. Unfortunately, CHED dilly dallied and after Mr. Aquino’s term, CHED officials simply dropped it – to the great joy of so many schools masquerading as universities.
But the Transmutation Tables remained. However, there was a minuscule improvement. The Department of Education imposed 60, instead of 50, as the passing mark.
Since 2016, with the implementation of the K+12 program, high schools are mandated to use 60 as the passing mark, to be transmuted (as if by magic) to a grade of 75 or C. However, many schools, including universities, still use 50 as the passing mark.
DIFFERENT SCHOOLS, DIFFERENT STROKES
I took my Masters at the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman, and I never heard of transmutation tables. When I taught there, I did not use any tables. My students got the grades they deserved. I then taught at Kalayaan College. The College was founded by former UP President Dr. Jose Abueva. Most, if not all, faculty members came from UP. I did not use any transmutation tables there, too.
Later, I was invited to teach at a school at the University Belt. This was the first time that I used a transmutation table. It was indeed like magic. Failing students become above-average students. Those who got an initial grade of 74, which means a failing mark at UP and Kalayaan College, got instead a grade of 83! A student just needed to get 60% to get a grade of 75 or C.
Two years later, I was invited to teach at another university in Manila. This time, I was told to use a transmutation table with 50 as the passing mark. After the prelim exams, when I was doing the grades, I couldn’t make myself give very high grades to unintelligent students. I couldn’t force myself to give a grade of 85 when s/he just deserved a grade of 70.
So I went to the Dean, who used to teach at UP, too. I told her I could not possibly use the transmutation table with 50 as the passing mark. She told me that she also did not use such tables. She created her own. I realized that what she did was almost like the table using 60 as the passing mark. So, I used 60 as the passing mark, and it was more palatable than the table based on 50. Anybody getting an initial grade of 70 would get a grade of 81 instead of 85.
In both schools, I needed to use the transmutation tables. Otherwise, almost everyone would fail.
A few days ago, I wrote about Transmutation Tables in my Facebook account. Two of my former students from Kalayaan College commented. One wrote: “A lot of parents are posting and bragging their child’s report card at lahat na ata ng bata ngayon Sir may award (and maybe all the children are given awards now, Sir.). Lahat ng mailalabas na adjective sa dictionary binigay na sa bata. (All the adjectives in the dictionary have been awarded to the children) 😅 (am I bitter?) 😂 (Translation mine)
Another wrote: “And sadly, this produces a generation of people who are so entitled, because they believe EVERYTHING will be rewarded. A generation with zero resilience, hence the alarming rates of anxiety and depression. Also a generation who can’t fend for themselves. It is a downward spiral.”
Both are correct. My FB feed is full of accounts of children getting awards left and right. Almost nobody graduates without honors. These children might think that everything is so easy and that they don’t have to exert much effort in life.
TRANSMUTATION TABLES NOT ENOUGH
But even with transmutation tables, I still get to flunk students. One student asked me why I gave him a failing grade. “Nag-aatend naman ako, ah,” (“I attend class) he said. “But how were your exams? And your recitation? And assignments?,” I answered. Simply attending classes is not enough.
Once, the Chair was quite anxious because I gave one student a low grade. The student happened to be the daughter of the top school official.” What if the parents complain?,” she asked me. I told her not to worry. If the parents complain, she should just tell them to talk to me. The parents did not complain.
Not everybody can be saved by the Transmutation Tables. Sometimes, the teachers need to give them a helping hand. Once, I realized that my Masters students would all fail if I just depended on the Transmutation Table. The passing mark for Masters level is quite high. They need a grade of B to pass. So, I gave the students an additional 20 points in their final exam so they could make the grade.
Later, the teacher in charge of graduate students in the department asked me what I did to make the students pass. I was surprised at the question so I confessed that I gave the students extra 20 points in their final exams. She laughed and said something like, “Tayo pa ang gagawa para sa kanila..” (Approximately: We need to do things for them…) So I figured, she also had to do something to give them passing grades. Transmutation Tables were not enough.
When I was asked to formulate questions on Communication Theory for the Comprehensive Exam of students in the Masters (graduate) level, I gave around 4 essay-type questions. When I took my comprehensive exam at UP, my answers filled at least three pages (typed, font size 12, Times New Roman) per question.
The M.A. students gave ONE SHORT PARAGRAPH answers. One wrote three sentences. That was for the COMPREHENSIVE exam leading to the M.A. in Communication degree. My conscience would not allow me to give passing grades to these people. Enough was enough. I gave them very, very low grades.
And nobody could complain about my grades because I simply based it on my rubrics. Fortunately, we were asked to submit our rubrics for the exams. Set against my rubrics, there was no way the Masters-level students could get high grades. But, to my shock, these students still managed to pass their comprehensive exams, although with only a Low Pass rating. The other examiners (I think there were four of us) must have given the students extremely high grades (95% and above) in order to pull up the grades of the students. I wonder if the other examiners gave the students the grades they deserved or they were forced by the department officers to give high grades.
It is disheartening to realize that people who cannot even write a proper essay become teachers. How can they teach their Communication students to communicate properly? At least two of the examinees are Communication professors. One has an M.A. degree in another discipline.
Transmutation tables alone cannot make an undeserving student pass. Sometimes, students need the help of teachers or department officials.
Transmutation tables is one sure way of dumbing down Filipinos. Diploma mills masquerading as universities is another.