Mythical Bell Curve for Student Evaluations: Conflict with Islamic Concepti

A "bell curve" is the holy grail for which the academicians force the grades of the students to be distributed in a form that resembles a bell shape as given in the figure.

The underlying assumption is that intelligence is distributed (genetically and emperically) in this bell curve shape which indicates that there are very few people who have very high or very low intelligence and majority of the people have intelligence that lies around the middle. To ensure that this kind of distribution is really observed, question papers are rigged so that in each paper there are only a few questions which are very difficult and only a few questions which are very easy and most questions are of average difficulty. By biasing the measuring instrument in this manner, the academicians feel happy when they find the results that they were looking for. In case they still can't get this, then they resort to the practice of "curve fitting" to meet their assumption. Going beyond rigging the examination paper, even the contents of the text books, exercises and other material is rigged in this manner to eventually produce the bell curve results. Teachers and paper setters are held to account if the eventual results do not subscribe to the bell curve. Many schools and universities have explicit and implicit policies of firing the teachers who do not rig their teaching and examination papers in this manner.

I know this because I have been myself guilty of making such policies in responsible and influential positions at universities and while researching for the National Testing Service project in the late 1990s. This is before I got the guidance and realized the harm that I was inflicting.

The bell curve assumption about the distribution of intelligence contradicts the Quran "We have indeed created man in the best of moulds" [95#4, Tin, "Laqad Khalaqnal insaana fi ahsen i taqveem"].

The bell curve assumption debases a human by predicating his intelligence on genetics and faulty measurments. This assumption destroys the self of most of the students and mentally prepares them for servitude and becoming unthinking mechanical cogs of the capitalist machinery where they can not and should not contribute creatively.

There is a difference between "what is" and "what can be". Former denotes the current status, while the latter denotes the future potential.

When our focus is on students especially the youth, our operative assumptions should not be based on the "current state" i.e. "what is", but instead should be based on the "future potential" i.e. "what can be". People especially students have a huge potential to learn and grow and labeling them with grades on the basis of their current state is likely to become a self-fulfilled prophecy that will mostly inhibit their natural growth.

Believing in the potential of what Allah has bestowed to each one of us and then believing in the following interpretation of Iqbal requires courage and faith in your child's abilities:

Hur Fard hay millat kay muqqaddar ka sitara!!

People especially students have an immense ability to surprise us when we change our assumptions about them. But, this can only happen when our opinions about them are positive and are based on the faith that each of them has the capacity and the ability to excel and be a source of light and be the destiny of the nation.

My personal experience of working and counselling the parents over a number of years is that often their assumptions about their children are very low and this becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy and the child's performance degrades. Many parents have assumed that their child has such and such deficiency, and the child is constrained to such an extent by this assumption that the child's ability to grow is taken away. This constriction is done by taking away the child's playtime, time to play alone, time for seculded introspection, time to play with peers, time to explore gardens, walking tracks, mountains, rivers, museums, cities, markets, trades. They subject the poor child to the regimentation of school, followed by maulvi sb, followed by a series of tutors, with constant admonishing about this and that.

Allah Who knows all, Who knows what is in our front and what is behind our back, Who knows what is hidden and what is visible, Who knows the past and the future, Who is omni-scient has suspended His judgment about us till the day of judgement. He has given us all our lives to explore, seek guidance, and improve ourselves. But, many of our parents and schools with our limited knowledge, limited and superficial observations are willing to condemn our own children, label them as failures and subject them to all kinds of emotional and physical harassment. We are not even willing to give our children the amount of space for play, growth, discovery, experimentation and curiosity that they rightly deserve. We are not even willing to give them the time period for schooling to grow. We are often thinking about them having exceptional attributes by an early age.