Despite the best efforts of the government, the imbalance in the higher secondary seats between the northern and southern districts of Kerala continues. The result: an acute shortage of seats in Malabar.

This is the season of educational worries. With the results of secondary and higher secondary examinations out, students and parents have begun their virtual run for a comfortable seat for higher studies. But the degree of tension they undergo varies in the southern and northern districts of the State. The reason: while the southern districts have more seats for higher studies than their requirement, the northern districts are reeling under a severe seat shortage.

Despite the best efforts of the government to address the imbalance of higher secondary seats between the northern and southern districts, the woes of students from Malabar continue. “This underscores the age-old notion of neglect towards Malabar,” says Malappuram District Panchayat president Arimbra Mohammed.

The State of Kerala, when considered as a single unit, has much better infrastructure and facilities for higher studies than several other States. According to rough estimates, the State has 4.2 lakh seats in higher secondary and various other vocational streams, including polytechnic, ITC and ITI, to offer those who passed the SSLC. The number of students who passed the SSLC this year was only 4.08 lakh.

But the problem begins when it comes to the distribution of higher secondary seats geographically and demographically. As many as 2.35 lakh of those who passed SSLC this year are in the seven districts of Malabar. But the seats available for them for higher education are only 2.03 lakh.

The number of students qualified for post-SSLC studies this year in the districts from Thiruvananthapuram to Ernakulam was 1.73 lakh. But, in contrast, the number of seats awaiting them is 2.17 lakh. In effect, when there is an excess of 44,000 seats in the institutions in the south-central districts of Kerala, the Malabar districts between Thrissur and Kasaragod are left to reel under a shortage of seats. The number of seats needed for Malabar will be around 32,000 as against the 44,000 seats that go begging in the south-central districts. And, as it used to be, the worst sufferer among Malabar's districts is Malappuram. As former Education Minister E.T. Mohammed Basheer, MP, once remarked, Malappuram has been the fittest sample for the entire Malabar. That is perhaps why the district used to be considered a crucible for various experiments, including the world famous Akshaya e-literacy project.

When 61,805 students passed SSLC from Malappuram—the highest number in the State—the number of seats available for them in the district is 43,495. This includes the higher secondary seats in government, aided, and unaided streams, as well as the seats in vocational higher secondary, polytechnic, ITC and ITI. “We have a shortage of roughly 18,000 seats,” said Abdurahman Randathani, MLA, who submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Education Minister M.A. Baby demanding an end to the inequity.

Statistics show that there will be a shortage of about 7,000 seats in Kozhikode, 6,000 seats in Palakkad, 3,500 seats in Kannur and Thrissur each, and 1,600 seats in Kasaragod. Last year, too, the situation was the same. When 1.78 lakh students passed SSLC in the south-central districts in 2009, the number of seats they had was 2.16 lakh.

The number of seats that went begging there was 38,000. In north Kerala, when 2.32 lakh students won in 2009, they had only 1.83 lakh seats available. As many as 48,000 had to look elsewhere for further studies.

The situation in Malappuram was worse then. More than 30,000 students did not get seats in Malappuram in 2009.

The introduction of 24,000 additional higher secondary seats in Malabar in 2007 has helped reduce the imbalance. But the disparity continues to be glaring. Education Minister M.A. Baby, addressing a function at Perinthalmanna on the weekend, assured to address the issue. “We need to discuss the matter in the Cabinet. We'll definitely solve the problem,” he told a cheering crowd that accorded him a reception for making the dream of Aligarh Muslim University campus a reality in Kerala.

The mere increase in the number of higher secondary seats has, however, begun to pose a different problem. The teacher-student ratio in Plus One classes has gone up to 1:60.

“It ought to be 1:40 or below, especially when we give emphasis on quality,” points out the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), a student body which has taken up the issue of lack of facilities.

Unlike other student bodies, the SIO led the way in Malappuram by constructing a Plus Two building for the Government Higher Secondary Schools at Edavanna and Nellikuthu and offering benches and desks for schools at Ponmundam and Pallippadi

Although additional Plus Two batches were sanctioned since 2007, several schools in the district could not begin them owing to lack of infrastructure.

Although the district panchayat is in charge of the government higher secondary schools, paucity of funds has prevented them from enhancing the infrastructure. As many as 19 panchayats in Malappuram do not have a higher secondary school. The students of Kalikavu, Karulai, Vazhikkadavu, Cherukara, Melattur, Parappur, Thriprangode, Kodur, AR Nagar, Ponmundam, Thennala, Ozhur, Marakkara, Muthuvallur, Pulpatta, Edapatta, Keezhattur, Ponmala and Munniyur panchayats are forced to go to neighbouring panchayats for Plus Two studies. The Muthuvallur panchayat does not even have a high school in government or aided sector.

The students of Edapatta and Melattur travel greater distance than others as these adjoining panchayats have no higher secondary school.

The district witnessed a spurt in the results in the last 10 years, particularly since 2005, as an apparent result of the Vijayabheri scheme offered by the district panchayat. The percentage of SSLC pass in Malappuram 1999 was only 30.23.

It rose to an all-time high of 87.09 per cent in 2008. Since then, the results of Malappuram remained steady.