one hundred per cent

This morning I was handed out the detailed results of our class XII and X students. In the right hand column the teacher had put in remarks. Some students were school toppers, other class toppers, yet others maths topper. Marks ranged in the 90s and 80s. There were some who had just passed but the teacher had written that these were very weak students who had managed to clear their examination: a feat in its own way. Vivek had secured 99% in maths and Shilpa, Jatin, Anita and Rohit were all toppers. The same story was repeated in class X with a good number of As with as many as 5 toppers again. It was a ah ha moment for pwhy. But was it really.

A news item last week had dampened my joy in more ways than one. You now needed an aggregate of 100% to get admission in B (Com) Hons in one of Delhi University's prime institution. Absurd and inane! Yet the Principal of the same institution defended this decision: We get the best students from across the country and getting 100% in the aggregate of your best performance in four subjects is no longer impossible in Board examinations. Never mind if in some States toppers secure marks in the nineties. In a nutshell this means that if a child has secured a respectable 80 or 85%, (s)he may not get admission in a good college. Let me also add that Delhi University colleges are affordable and thus an option for all students, irrespective of their social background. All doors had been banged in their faces.

Of course, for the past few years there has been a proliferation of private institutions with fees in 6 figures! Not an option for the slum kid, son of vegetable vendor or ironing man who has managed to clear his Boards with what was once called a first division. They will have to either get admitted in an evening course, a correspondence course or apply through the Open University. It almost seems as if higher education has been sectioned into classes: one for the uber smart, another for the uber rich and yet another for the poor. I was told just yesterday by a young upmarket kid that some of the private universities will take a weak student for a higher fee aptly dubbed donation. The other option of course for the affluent is to go abroad, another door that is closed to our children.

When we hear of 100% as a cut off mark for a favoured course, even we the almost incurable optimists are left dumbfounded. Even with our best efforts we know that our children cannot make the cut and that because they run the race with a heavy handicap: poverty. Many of our kids cannot afford books and thus rely on badly drafted guides. Many cannot afford extra tuitions. All do not have savvy parents or resources at home. They often do not even have place to study at home. How can you when you live in a tin box that you share with many, when a younger sibling may tear your book or a drunk father simply destroy it in a fit of rage. And yet children like Vivek or Shilpa beat all odds and come out winners. But their victory is not good enough to open the door of a first class education. They will always be second best.

Now second best is available all the way. You can secure a degree or even an MBA or other professional course. Two of our staff have taken that road. You register with an institute and are given course material. A look at it is enough to make you either roar with laughter or scream in horror. Booklets badly printed on cheap paper boast of titles like globalisation, education, and give pathetic ready made answers to possible questions. These are then mugged and regurgitated at the examination. And you manage to secure enough marks to pass as remember you can pass with a mere 33%! When you have duly sat for all the examinations you are given a degree and become a graduate. Sadly there are many such graduates. I do not need to spell out their worth.

There is something terribly wrong in our system of education and it is time the powers that be addressed the problem and took corrective measures, or else the so called Right to Education will become a poor joke played on innocent children.