Blood, sweat and tears are not enough for a college seat

Dread words. Percentage, percentile, cut off list, aggregate, mains, first list, second list... .waiting, waiting, waiting... Well the waiting is finally over, and the pain has just begun. If they had a flag, it would have flown at half-mast. A distraught mother bewails the fact that all hopes of her son doing medicine are dashed. Why? Because he has scored only 95 per cent in his higher secondary examinations. A girl wonders if life is really worth living - because her score is a pitiful 93 per cent. Elsewhere, someone has scored 75 per cent and all hell has broken loose. Every move of his is watched with eagle eyes. The grandmother starts every time her grandson moves out of her line of vision and the parents speak in hushed tones. The television relentlessly spews statistics of the number of suicides and flashes numbers of counselling centres.

The numbers game

Is there really life beyond test scores? Apparently not. And being in a country that has some dozens of `boards' (Tamil Nadu alone has the state board, the ICSE, the Anglo Indian school Board, and the CBSE) has made things more complicated. While one child is inconsolable that he has scored `only 90 per cent' another child has to contend for a seat in a college with only 70 per cent in his kitty. Why? Because, one board awards more marks and is easier, and the other board is tougher, and therefore marks are difficult to come by. How much do you love your child? With all your heart? Prove it. Shell out a handful of lakhs and you have engineering or a medical seat to gift him or her. If your love doesn't extend to begging, borrowing, stealing or bleeding your life's savings dry, then settle for a heart-broken, frustrated child whose self-esteem is zero and who is possibly marked for life. All along you have been telling your children that hard work always bears fruit and never goes waste. Believing you, they have slogged and pored over their books for the last two years. And now that is not good enough to get them a college education. Suddenly, they are not rich enough, not bright enough or not of the right caste.

The excuses

And the round of accusations and excuses begin. `You did not study enough', `there was no proper tuition available', `the school was not supportive, `teachers did not complete the syllabus, `the questions were way too difficult', `someone said that those who correct board papers do so in abysmal conditions and are poorly paid and so they are indifferent to how they carry out the corrections' and so on... Why is education so unfriendly to students? It is students Vs the system rather than the system for the students. The aim of examinations seems to be to trick students into making mistakes and tripping them up. Resentment and fear are the key emotions. While a miniscule number of students sail through with nary a care in the world and settle in comfortably into reputed educational institutions, or go abroad, the rest compromise, adjust and reconcile themselves into becoming also-rans.PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

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