What a travesty Indian education is. It magnifies the old adage of life coming down to a few moments to monstrous proportions. In this case everything comes down to one examination. You may have been an exemplary student your entire life but if you don’t ace that one exam you are a total zero. And even if you do that and score as high as 95 per cent, you can’t get into the college you want. And it does not end there. Given how arbitrary the application of rules is in India, chances are you will have to bear the ignominy of watching other students, who may have scored less, being admitted because they fill a quota or have the ear of some minister or possess a rich dad who knows how to grease palms.
Furthermore, what does the system offer even if you successfully jump through all the hoops? On several campuses, lecturers do not teach; they are too busy raking in the moolah giving private tuitions and moonlighting as adjunct faculty in questionable private institutions. In many cases, they are not qualified to teach, having not even completed a bona fide Ph.D. I personally know of instances at elite universities where professors, yes, professors not even lecturers, have been hired not for their publications or path-breaking research but affiliation with a political party in the ascendancy. I can only imagine how bad the situation is at the lesser-known institutions. Even at the venerable IIMs and IITs that like to think of themselves as the Harvard and Cambridge of India, how many Nobel Prizes has the faculty brought home?
The system, quite frankly, needs someone to take a sword to it. First, do away with marks and the absurd practice of standing first and second in class. Competitive values are instilled on the sports field where children learn about the joy of winning and the pain of losing while having fun. Bring in the grade system that evaluates student performance over the course of the academic year. Make teaching, if not the best-paid profession, then at least a better-paid one so that it attracts the best and brightest in society. And, finally, make education what it is supposed to be. Something that grooms a student to be an upstanding member of the community. Currently, it is an assembly line that churns out bookworms who are supposed to excel atruttafication and aspire merely to ace examinations. And it can’t even perform that role without malfunctioning.
According to C. Selvaraj, principal of St. Thomas College of Arts and Science, Chennai, writing an examination is simply a skill. “Not all intelligent students may have it. I have had many good students who had a very good understanding of concepts, but did not like writing the long answers that the examination system expects,” says the former Head of the Economics Department of the Madras Christian College.
Moreover, consistency and ability are matters to be judged over a considerable period of time. S. Muthukumaran, former Vice-Chancellor of Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi, says considering a student’s performance over the last four years of schooling, from class IX to XII, is important. “The way some of the syllabi are designed, it is possible to learn Class X content even without attending class IX. In such a scenario, a student’s performance over a few years becomes relevant in reflecting his or her degree of consistency,” he notes.
It is also time to reflect on prevalent evaluation and assessment patterns, Dr. Muthukumaran observes. “A good test will clearly point to the differences in students. These days, examination results present a skewed distribution, more towards the pass percentage. In that sense, our evaluation system may not be a true representation of students’ knowledge,” he adds.
The culture of such high cut-offs which seem rather unrealistic to many, also has other implications. An institution of higher education is a community. “Resorting to admissions using such cut-offs denies large sections of our student population equity and access to higher education,” says Dr. Selvaraj.
A mixed group of students from varied religious, economic and social backgrounds, and different academic abilities, can add value to the learning experience and facilitate peer learning, he adds. “These high cut-off scores are administratively convenient, but can never be justified academically. We must remember that each student is a human being.”