Closing The Doors on Students, Not Coaching Institutes
THE Union Minister for Human Resources Development did yet another flip-flop. He had announced that a student should secure 80 per cent marks in the Class 12 Board exams to qualify for IIT JEE. Under immense pressure, he immediately retracted on his statement. The minister representing a parliamentary constituency in Delhi, appears to be following in the footsteps of a famous medieval era Sultan of Delhi, known for his mavericks. Governance these days for the UPA II appears to be more shooting from the hip, checking the reaction and then backing out. Or is it following the Machiavellian dictum, “First demonstrate to the people the worst that you are capable of. Then proceed not to repeat it. The people will then heave a sigh of relief and come to look upon you as a benefactor”
Free from the 'shackles' of the Left, the second edition of the UPA seems to be too eager to implement the neo-liberal agenda. HRD minister appears to be desperate to 'win' this race with his colleagues. He had announced a 100-day agenda with many important promises largely unmet (to his credit we can concede that the Right to Education Act was passed, although with many flaws), taken up the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Commission in higher education for implementation. He allowed the IIMs to start branches abroad. That accomplished, he now wants to lay the red carpet for the foreign universities. And now has come the proposal to increase the qualification marks for entering the IITs and an appeal to the NITs to consider their relevance. Though made under the garbs of reforming the education system and cleansing it of its shortcomings, it is really a design for 'elitisation' of education.
The announcement on increasing the qualification marks for IITs, said to be made with an intention to protect students from falling prey to the coaching institutions that are minting money through their huge earnings and profits, had sparked a debate. Usually announcements precede debates, but in our country it has become the norm to first announce and then open it up for debates. It is not our contention that debates should stop once an announcement is made. But for a healthy democratic system and rational decision, making all the major decisions should be debated first and then announced.
The debate on this proposal of the minister had once again brought forward the question of merit and quality in our educational institutions, particularly the 'elite' higher education institutions like the IITs and AIIMS etc. As witnessed during the debates on reservations, once again it is being argued that merit and quality should be protected in these elite institutions at any cost and opening them for students from deprived backgrounds is nothing less than killing merit and quality. Thus, it is argued that increasing the qualification marks to 80 per cent would save these institutions from mediocrity and uphold their 'brand value' which is made synonymous with quality.
Unfortunately the proponents of these arguments are forgetting few realities that exist in our country. Our country is a federal State with education in the concurrent list, a fact that is increasingly under attack. This was always a matter of contention between the centre and the states- the centre using its powers and leverage of finances wanting to control the entire education system with many states resisting it. The present government too is eager to centralise the entire education system by usurping many of the powers of the state. It had proposed a common board for class 10th and 12th and backtracked after resistance. It is this reality that the present move once again conveniently forgets.
In our federal set-up, each state has its own board to conduct and manage school education. In some states classes 11th and 12th are with school board, in some with college board, while in some others they are independent of both. The evaluation and examining patterns are different both amongst states and between the centre and the states. Now, in this background if 80 per cent is decided as the minimum qualification, it is bound to lead to problems as the evaluation patterns are different. Already students have been complaining that it is easier to secure 60 per cent marks in CBSE while it is difficult to achieve the same in their respective state boards. It is also true that some students also complain of vice-versa. Similar is the complaint between students of two central boards-CBSE and ICSE.
Students naturally perceive common entrance test as a leveller against such differences among the various boards in the country. This had been vindicated by numerous examples across the country. There are instances where some coaching institutes in Bihar are run with intentions of charity and social justice, ensuring that students from the deprived sections get into these 'premier' institutions. The same is the case with an institute run from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh that consciously admits students from rural and backward sections, coaches them and ensures that they get a seat in IIT. Now saying that it needs 80 per cent marks for these students to realise their dream of studying in IIT, is nothing but trying to bulldoze the differences pointed earlier and also deny them an opportunity to realise their dream.
Above all these, an important fact that always needs to be remembered in all our discussions about the Indian education system is that it is severely 'malnourished', starved of funds. For any reform of our education system, it should be holistic in nature. It should address all the concerns of equity, quality and quantity together and not one after the other. The condition of school education is so sub-standard that many schools are lacking minimum amenities necessary for students to pursue their studies. Thousands of schools do not have teachers, many of those that do, have insufficient teachers. Even amongst those, many are unqualified. This apart, there are problems galore like lack of sufficient classrooms, books, teaching aids, etc. It is in these conditions that majority of Indians are pursuing their education. It is not their fault that they are born poor or born among the deprived sections of our society. It should be the society's responsibility to ensure that they overcome this deprivation and achieve some sort of equality. For a country that takes pride in being the world's largest democracy this is all the more imperative. Part of being a democracy includes, democratising our education system, making the system accessible to all. Instead of addressing these concerns what the government is really up to is reinforce the existing divisions- confine the students from deprived backgrounds, in the name of mediocrity, to sub-standard institutions.
There are many studies carried out to show that many students who have in fact secured less than 80 per cent marks have cracked the IIT entrance and are indeed doing well in these institutions. The study carried out in JNU, long back had proved that students who seek admission with the help of deprivation points, given the necessary support system, had indeed performed well subsequently in their course work. And if, in fact, the students do not do well once in these 'premier' institutions, it means that there is 'something' in that institution that needs to be corrected. After all, teaching is not all about addressing the top students in the class, but is also about making the average and below average too comprehend.
It had been argued many times in the same columns that merit is intensely related to socio-economic factors. It does not exist in vacuum. Individuals might have varying intelligence levels but this is not something genetic. Many ‘mediocre’ individuals in their schools often turned out to be genius after coming into contact with the right ‘atmosphere’. Intelligence per se might appear to have got nothing to do with class or caste, but it has lots to do with this ‘atmosphere’. Class defines your economic position while caste does it for your social status. Both together play an important role in the access to education. You can wish both of them ‘off’ on the paper but not on the ground. They define where you live, what your living conditions are and thus naturally the school you attend and the education you get. But if one wants to quantify merit only in terms of marks, even they do get determined by these factors. Unless these are comprehensively addressed, we cannot deny the right of education to the students.
Arguing for IIT JEE should not be in any way misconstrued as defending coaching centres. Nobody denies the fact 'coaching' has become an industry in our country and an easy way to generate profits in the 'business of education'. Coaching centres are mushrooming around us in a big way. These in fact need to be controlled and regulated. This cannot be achieved by doing away with entrance examination or reducing the importance of an entrance examination. The experience in Andhra Pradesh shows that this strategy does not help. Coaching industry did not diminish there. In fact it had become more 'innovative', big and diversified that they have expanded their roots from school to college education. Some have even started 'deemed universities'.
The government has to think, why and how in the first place did these institutes gain their prominence. Instead of crying that Board exams are losing prominence over the entrance examination, the government should question itself how we had arrived at this situation. It should also ponder over the reasons why it is increasingly becoming necessary to take the help of 'coaching' instead of just teaching at the schools to secure a seat in the 'premier' institutes. The solution apparently lies in the fact that all the three concerns-quality, quantity and equity have to be simultaneously addressed. Start more quality institutions, make them affordable and accessible to all, you automatically close the doors of the coaching institutes. Does the government have the will to do this? The course undertaken by this government says, NO.