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Saturday, May 29, 2004

No sooner the EAMCET results were out, the faces of top-ranking students from various ‘institutes’ figured in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, street banners and television commercials.  But to one institute, all these are somewhat passé. It went one step further: they organized a colourful and noisy car rally - one decorated, music-playing car for every top ranker they produced!

It is definitely a moment of pride:  very few societies in the world celebrate academic success like the way we do.  A majority of us even teach our children, starting from a very young age, to value intellectual achievement over everything else.  On the other hand, the very basis on which we measure the scholastic calibre of young students is highly flawed.  That is why, each year, the EAMCET results leave tens of thousands of (otherwise talented and capable) youngsters completely disappointed.   Particularly after they had to invest months, sometimes years, of hard work and pure labour.  Two days ago, newspapers reported one suicide and two attempted suicides in our state - the very day that EAMCET results were released.  All this is not some sort of a ‘collateral damage’ – it is net outcome of our entrance-exam based education regime.

Last week, I wrote about the need for admitting students into colleges based on a more scientific and rational procedure.   Now, we need to understand the other key issue related to the constitution of entrance exams:  our Intermediate and ‘Plus Two’ students are loaded with too many tests.  EAMCET is neither the beginning nor the end.  The students also have to take their Board exams, sit for the JEE for IITs, write the AIEEE for RECs or take the IIIT (popularly called the ‘Triple I T’) entrance exam.  Just to be on the ‘safe side’, many students also appear for the CETs in other states like Karnataka or Tamil Nadu.  Add to this the NDA entrance, Merchant Navy test, SAT and so on…

Each one of these tests purportedly measures the level of scientific (conceptual) understanding and analytical skill in a teenager.  But, they have widely differing formats, distinct patterns of questions and questioning, dissimilar methods of evaluation and ranking and finally, they lead up to completely different schemes for awarding college seats to students.  Just look at the Intermediate, JEE and the EAMCET exams: they are as distinct as the rhino, the rhinoceros beetle and the rhododendron.  Even cricket, that complex game of glorious uncertainties, has only two basic varieties – the tests and the one-dayers!

It is a sad fact that several of these entrance examinations are not based on proper scientific and rational testing procedures.  The chief utility of these tests seems to be as a rough-and-ready tool for distributing ranks among lakhs of student applicants each year.  Largely because of this reason, a typical student’s performance in the Intermediate Board exam or even an EAMCET-type entrance exam generally has little correlation with his/her academic performance in later engineering/graduate-level courses.   They bear even lesser relationship to his/her success in professional careers.

There is clearly no pressing reason to subject our children to such a variety of intimidating tests.  We are facing an urgent need to make our college entrance exam regimen simple, direct and flexible.  Colleges, universities and higher educational institutions across the country could work towards adopting a ‘universal’ standardized, rational and scientific entrance procedure.  Such an improved format would cause minimal stress (to students and their parents, both!) as well as offer maximum flexibility (in terms of dates and times, for instance).  All the while, its chief objective should be to provide applicants with an opportunity to showcase their scholastic aptitude.  That would be the only way to alleviate the tremendous levels of mental and physical pressure currently being imposed on our younger generations.

Let me emphasize that these changes and improvements are not constrained by huge physical barriers nor do they need large monetary inputs.  In fact, reforming our college entrance system is not about physical resources at all.   It is more about the concerned authorities showing some concern and courage supplemented by a lot of creative thinking.  A bit of sense and sensibility towards the students’ conditions would not hurt the cause at all!  Fortunately, our state has a wealth of knowledgeable, talented and motivated resource persons and faculty in the concerned departments and institutions.  I am very confident that they can easily develop a better entrance procedure for future aspirants.

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