I failed in mathematics when I was in grade four or five – I do not remember the exact grade. But do you know why I failed?
Because I could not secure the 33 percent mark required to pass the test. I got 32.
My math teacher called my mother to school and showed her the script. She scolded me severely for failing. Then, the teacher warned that if I did not improve, I would not be promoted to the next grade.
My mother did not talk to me for over a week for getting such poor marks and the "humiliation" that ensued, and I kept wondering what the difference between 32 and 33 was. The teacher could have easily given me one mark as grace.
Out of shame, embarrassment, and pressure from parents, peers and teachers, I worked hard and got 98 percent mark in the final exam.
I never failed in any other exam after that. But I could not stop mulling over it – what makes "33" so special? Why is the pass mark 33? Why not 32, 34, 35 or even 50? 50 would have been more logical.
Has this thought ever come to your mind too? Why does it require 33 percent mark to pass?
What is more interesting is that this requirement is the same in three countries in the Indian subcontinent – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
There is a history behind everything, and this also has one. This is the colonial legacy set by the British empire, which continued for centuries, and is still going on.
Well, going back in history, the first matriculation exam was held in this subcontinent in 1858 under the British Raj. While checking scripts, officials were in dilemma over deciding on the passing criterion for students – should it be the same as that for British pupils or lower?
To clear the confusion, they consulted British lords. Back then, the pass mark in Britain was 65. They considered that the level of intelligence and intellect of our people was half of theirs, and thus set the pass mark at 32.5, which was half of 65.
This is how they used to look down upon us, and we still cannot come out of this colonial mentality.
Later in 1861, this 32.5 percent was rounded off to 33 percent to make calculations easier. Since then, no one ever questioned or made any attempt to change it.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh adopted this criterion back then. Even after more than 150 years, they are still continuing this age-old taxonomy of evaluation in their education systems.
Even our public examinations are still held under the colonial system. They are memorisation-centric.
From bagging Nobel Prize to inventing stars to earning names in scientific discoveries to triumphing in sports – the people of this subcontinent have proved their excellence over the years.
Our people were never less intellectual, less bright or less sharp than the white colonisers. Rather, our rich legacy of literature, expertise in trade and commerce, and civilisation lured the British empire to establish their colony here.
We triumphed over the British Raj and freed ourselves from their exploitation through our indomitable movements, but we could not set our minds free from the shackles of imperialism which ended 150 years ago.