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Saturday, July 27, 2002

Any one who notices the higher education scene in Andhra would be awe struck by the tremendous demand for professional courses. Right from childhood every student aspires to become either an engineer or doctor. The parents feel that unless their children have a professional degree, they will not get a decent job. In reality, our society needs lot more people with diverse skill sets and expertise other than engineering or medicine. But, unfortunately we haven’t created either the demand for that sort of knowledge or the capacity to utilize those skills productively. For example, some of the finest programmes in South Asian studies are available only outside the sub-continent!

Beginning in 70’s the state had been conducting a competitive entrance examination to select students for professional courses. Over the years, the number of students competing for admission has increased giving rise to special coaching institutes to train the students for these tests. These entrance examinations did succeed in making the students more competitive and knowledgeable. But it has also damaged the Intermediate education. In reality very few students attend the regular Intermediate colleges. They just enroll formally and spend all their time at the coaching institutes where they are taught to learn by rote with little emphasis on analytical and application skills.

As I see it, the fundamental problem lies in our system of examinations. They only tend to test the student for their ability to memorize and are very uncreative in their approach. The tests at present assesses the information base of the candidates and not necessarily their ability. As text books are prescribed for the syllabus given, the scope of the examination is limited to the matter given in a particular text book. The richness in content, application and treatment of subject is missing. Knowledge in scientific disciplines is thus sought to be severely restricted at the cost of innovation, depth and broad conceptual clarity.

The government is contemplating giving some weightage to the Intermediate examination in EAMCET, the entrance examination for professional courses. The principle of giving Intermediate due recognition is a valid one, as it is the foundation for both professional courses and university education. Undoubtedly we must create an environment to make students take Intermediate study seriously. But the remedy should not be worse than the disease.

The EAMCET examination is somewhat flawed, but a common competitive examination to select students for admission into professional courses is still the best and most practical method under the current circumstances. Any effort to give weightage to Intermediate examination in admission into professional courses will do incalculable harm, and is impractical under the present circumstances, for the following reasons:

  1. Such weightage to Intermediate will drive all the students to private tutorial colleges in the hope that such special coaching will give them better scores in Intermediate. The need of the hour is to improve quality of Intermediate education in regular colleges, and not to undermine them further.
  2. The record of conduct of Intermediate examination is not edifying. Bad question paper setting, leakage of question papers, rampant mass copying, serious deficiencies in evaluation, and corrupt practices in practical examinations are all-too-common at present. Until these serious distortions are systematically addressed, and a level of confidence is restored in Intermediate examinations, such weightage will merely lead to more corrupt practices.
  3. It is possible to score 100% marks in Intermediate without even a modicum of knowledge on some major branches of science or mathematics, because of the faulty nature of the question papers and the excessive choice offered.

Many students from CBSE and ICSE streams also seek admission into professional courses. A common competitive admission test is the only fair means of selecting them. The first goal should be improving the quality of Intermediate education and its evaluation methods before we can think of giving weightage to Intermediate examination for admission into professional courses. Once the nature of examinations in both Intermediate and EAMCET are changed to test the students ability to think and apply knowledge to solving problems, over a period of time, the market forces will ensure that the type of training/instruction the students receive will be in tune with the new demand.