The 100 per cent cut-off in marks introduced by a Delhi College recently is indicative of the competitive nature of our education system, churning out products for the market rather than grooming students to be responsible members of civil society, feels award-winning writer VIKRAM KAPUR.
Japan is the country associated with student suicide. Given the ridiculously high cut-offs in Indian universities, none more absurd than the 100 per cent cut-off at Delhi University, we appear hell-bent on overtaking them. There was a report on NDTV on June 17 about a student committing suicide because she could not get into the college of her choice despite scoring 85 per cent. If the cut-offs remain so high, that could well become commonplace and we could soon rival our fellow Asian nation on their penchant for hara-kiri.
What a travesty Indian education is. It magnifies the old adage of life coming down to a few moments to monstrous proportions. In this case everything comes down to one examination. You may have been an exemplary student your entire life but if you don't ace that one exam you are a total zero. And even if you do that and score as high as 95 per cent, you can't get into the college you want. And it does not end there. Given how arbitrary the application of rules is in India, chances are you will have to bear the ignominy of watching other students, who may have scored less, being admitted because they fill a quota or have the ear of some minister or possess a rich dad who knows how to grease palms.
Furthermore, what does the system offer even if you successfully jump through all the hoops? On several campuses, lecturers do not teach; they are too busy raking in the moolah giving private tuitions and moonlighting as adjunct faculty in questionable private institutions. In many cases, they are not qualified to teach, having not even completed a bona fide Ph.D. I personally know of instances at elite universities where professors, yes, professors not even lecturers, have been hired not for their publications or path-breaking research but affiliation with a political party in the ascendancy. I can only imagine how bad the situation is at the lesser-known institutions. Even at the venerable IIMs and IITs that like to think of themselves as the Harvard and Cambridge of India, how many Nobel Prizes has the faculty brought home?
One of the major goals of education is to instil progressive values in the community. According to a report recently published by Trust Law, the legal news service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, India ranks fourth on the list of most dangerous countries for women because of its high levels of female foeticide, child marriage, trafficking and domestic servitude. Our other companions on the list are Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Congo and Somalia. It is not simply the illiterate poor in the villages who are guilty of such transgressions. The giving and taking of dowry, of aborting a girl child, and of sentencing women to domestic servitude is just as prevalent among the so-called educated classes. Even in the area of something as basic as gender equality, Indian education has failed miserably to replace outdated tradition and custom with reason and logic and heave the country into the 21st century. The less said about its record in rooting out the deeply entrenched scourges of caste, religion and regionalism the better.
Time to change
The system, quite frankly, needs someone to take a sword to it. First, do away with marks and the absurd practice of standing first and second in class. Competitive values are instilled on the sports field where children learn about the joy of winning and the pain of losing while having fun. Bring in the grade system that evaluates student performance over the course of the academic year. Make teaching, if not the best-paid profession, then at least a better-paid one so that it attracts the best and brightest in society. And, finally, make education what it is supposed to be. Something that grooms a student to be an upstanding member of the community. Currently, it is an assembly line that churns out bookworms who are supposed to excel at ruttafication and aspire merely to ace examinations. And it can't even perform that role without malfunctioning.