This, in spite of the city's overemphasis on performance in board exams. Why is Chennai, which is known for its academic excellence, behind nine other districts? There are good schools here, innumerable coaching centres and visibly high aspirations of students and parents.

The city may have had its share of top rank-holders hogging the limelight on Tuesday, but that does not necessarily mean that Chennai has fared well in the class XII examinations. In fact, it ranks only 10 among 32 districts, with a pass percentage of 90.4 — a marginal decrease from last year's 90.76 per cent.

Why is Chennai, which is known for its academic excellence, behind nine other districts? There are good schools here, innumerable coaching centres and visibly high aspirations of students and parents. However, over the past few years Chennai's glory has been limited to a set of state rank-holders and subject toppers. Nearly 10 per cent of the students have failed the examination this year.

Intense pressure and competition, often more pronounced in an urban setting, rob students of their confidence and instead, put fear on top of their minds. Many schools focus more on “good students” who will fetch state ranks for their schools. “And these top rankers will become brand ambassadors in the ads put out by the schools to lure new students,” said a teacher.

City schools that are among the ‘usual suspects' when it comes to producing toppers are notorious for filtering out students after class X, admitting only very high scorers, who can be groomed into rank holders easily. “The competition is crazy – the class average in the half-yearly examination will be over 90 per cent,” said a student who passed out of a famous school in Gopalapuram last year. “Our school is for toppers alone,” laughed the teenager, clearly relieved of the stress he was put through a year ago. Fewer and fewer schools care about students who need more help. The performance of some such students deteriorates close to the board examination. “They are simply unable to handle the pressure in school and at home. Finally, a few end up failing, even though they are students with potential,” said an English teacher at a Corporation–run school.

The pass percentage of a district is not fully representative of the students' potential either. If students were to be tested on their conceptual understanding, even the ones who passed or scored high will not fare too well, some teachers said. “You can't imagine the kind of pressure we face to achieve 100 per cent pass in our schools,” said the head of a Chennai Corporation-run school.

Senior teachers also point to a larger problem — the culture of rote learning which is quite prevalent among school students. “The quality of teaching in certain private schools here is so poor that teachers themselves encourage children to memorise concepts rather than understand them,” said a government school teacher.

Class XII scores should, ideally, reflect a child's schooling experience. It should vouch for the 12 years of learning. But in a context where class XII scores are seen merely as numbers, holding the key to hallowed professional colleges, the success or failure of a student will be contained within a ‘100'.