The Plus Two imbalance

Lucky ones: Plus Two students at a higher secondary school in Malappuram.

Lucky ones: Plus Two students at a higher secondary school in Malappuram.  

Parts of Kerala have been facing a shortage of Plus Two seats. Nowhere was this shortage felt as acutely as in Malabar, particularly Malappuram district, writes Abdul Latheef Naha.

The brouhaha over higher secondary admissions in the State may have died down. But the issue of imbalance in the number of Plus Two seats in the State’s 14 districts continues to vex the higher secondary watchers as well as the government. The recent allotment of additional higher secondary batches in Malabar was aimed at solving the problem, partly. But it did not help solve the problem of acute seat shortage in Malabar. Rather, it has added to the tangle that existed in the higher secondary sector for the past couple of years.

There has been widespread allegation of neglect towards Malabar in education. It is a fact that the education portfolio was handled by Ministers from Malabar for 34 years since the formation of Kerala in 1956. Yet, the region remains relatively backward owing either to the alleged neglect by the authorities or to the inherent socio-economic and religious factors.

What brought the existing imbalance to limelight a few months ago was the unprecedented rate of success in SSLC examinations in Malabar, particularly Malappuram. As former Education Minister E.T. Mohammed Basheer once remarked, Malappuram is the fittest sample for the entire Malabar. That is perhaps why the district is seen as a crucible for various experiments, including the world famous Akshaya e-literacy project.

Record pass

In the last SSLC examinations, Malappuram district witnessed a record pass of 76.62 per cent, thanks largely to the District Panchayat’s intensive high school education project titled Vijayabheri. Considering the results of the Save-A-Year (SAY) examinations, the total number of students who qualified for Plus Two in Malappuram stood at 65,528 out of the 71,143 who took the examinations in 2007.

The figures of success were impressive; but the facilities for higher secondary education were abysmally low in Malappuram. The total number of seats the district’s educational institutions offered for students who passed the SSLC examinations fell a few short of 26,000. These included 11,140 Plus Two seats in 82 government higher secondary schools, 7,900 Plus Two seats in 39 aided higher secondary schools, 600 seats in eight unaided Plus Two batches in aided schools, 1,200 Plus Two seats in unaided higher secondary schools, 300 seats in five area intensive higher secondary schools with Central funds, 800 seats in 23 government vocational higher secondary schools, 245 seats in three aided vocational higher secondary schools, 750 seats in 15 CBSE higher secondary schools,575 seats in three government polytechnic colleges, 175 seats in an aided polytechnic college, 510 seats in four technical higher secondary schools, 390 seats in two Industrial Training Institutes, and 1,100 seats in 20 Industrial Training Centres.

Lack of seats

More than 39,000 students who passed the SSLC examinations in Malappuram alone were unable to find a seat the district’s higher secondary and other institutions. The Plus Two seat imbalance came in focus especially when the State’s southern districts were seen to have excess higher secondary seats. For example, the higher secondary schools of Pathanamthitta district had 3,626 excess seats, and those in Kottayam had 1,028 seats in excess. In contrast, all districts of Malabar failed to meet the demand for Plus Two seats, and Malappuram witnessed the worst imbalance.

The demand to increase higher secondary seats in Malabar gained strength, and it took several months for the Government to announce additional plus two batches. Education Minister M.A. Baby said achieving balance in Plus Two seats was not easy as it involved a lot of technicalities.

The announcement of additional Plus Two batches in November, nearly four months after the higher secondary classes started, has brought in uncertainties and incommodities to a large number of higher secondary students. Many schools that got additional batches were reluctant to admit students. The net result has been fear and uncertainty among a large number of students pursuing higher secondary in the regular and open school streams.

HS alternative

The Kerala State Open School (KSOS), functioning under the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) as part of the National Open School, has been providing a higher secondary alternative to the thousands of students rejected by regular schools.

About 1.6 lakh students have registered for Plus Two under the State Open School this year. Nearly 6,000 of them are in regular stream and more than one lakh students in private stream. Those who pursue higher education in the open school regular stream have the advantage of getting study materials and periodic contact classes, said C. Gokuldas, State coordinator for KSOS.

Open school regular students can pursue the science stream also whereas their open school private counterparts have limited a choice between the humanities and commerce streams. Open school private students are largely dependent on parallel colleges functioning in towns and villages alike.

Most of those who registered under open school private and regular streams this year have been from Malabar. Malappuram alone accounts for more than 30,000 applicants and Kozhikode about 20,000 applicants.

With the government announcing an increase of about 20,000 higher secondary seats for Malabar, confusion set in among those who already registered under open school. Mr. Gokuldas says nearly 10,000 candidates have chosen to shift to the additional batches begun in schools.

They stand to lose the fees they paid for open school registration. Each student has paid nearly Rs.550 for joining under open stream. If the government had not delayed the declaration of additional seats, many students could have saved that amount.

Unfilled seats

In Malappuram, the government has introduced 7,344 additional Plus Two seats in 107 higher secondary batches and 31 vocational higher secondary batches. Even so, more than 32,000 students of Malappuram will have to depend on open school for higher secondary education.

Not even half of the additional batches in schools have been filled. Plus Two seats are going begging currently in the district, even as it faces the acute imbalance of seats. Some additional vocational higher secondary batches hardly find any takers, despite the rarity and high job potential of the courses. New batches in courses like medical lab technician and accounting and auditing have hardly any student.

Open school candidates have certain disadvantages over their regular school counterparts. Unlike the regular Plus Two students, the open school candidates do not have any arts or sports festivals that can give them grace marks for higher studies. Their continuing evaluation system is also inferior to that in the regular schools. Besides, those following the open school stream are denied of the scholarships enjoyed by their regular counterparts.

As the sports and arts festivals of the regular schools are already over, those who join the additional batches now will not get the benefit of grace marks.

A fear

Many schools do not encourage students to join their additional batches fearing that the new batches would affect their results as well as discipline. From the school managements’ perspective, those who join the additional batches are from parallel colleges which they consider as much inferior in all aspects.

The district panchayats of Malabar, which are in charge of Government high schools and higher secondary schools, have failed to provide infrastructural facilities for the additional Plus Two batches. Many schools where additional batches started have been facing a shortage of qualified faculty.

As the additional batches have been mostly in science stream, many students who join them after leaving parallel colleges are likely to find the subject tough. The schools and students alike are concerned about it.

The additional Plus Two batches have adversely affected the parallel college system too. Many colleges begun to accommodate the large number of students have been forced to close down with several students opting to join the additional batches. Seven parallel colleges in Wayanad alone are on the brink of closure. The Oxford Academy at Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district was closed down as the students dropped out.

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