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Friday, June 17, 2011

College admissions: curiouser and curiouser...

There is a certain elite college in Delhi which specializes in teaching commerce (much abused among the engineering fraternity – please refer to 3 Idiots), and this year they have announced that their required ‘cut-off’ score for admission is (hold your breath, all those who are both still sane and haven’t been reading the papers) 100%!

Even the Union Minister in charge of education, Kapil Sibal, who is not exactly feted for being a highly rational person, has publicly said that the decision is ‘completely irrational’ (The Telegraph, June 16, first page). An old boy of mine who saw the principal of the said college on a TV show said the man tried to defend the decision by claiming that it applied only to non-commerce stream applicants (it so happens that one science student has scored an aggregate of 100% marks in this year’s CBSE plus-two level examinations); for commerce students, the cut-off is ‘only’ 97%. This decision has been taken, according to the said principal, because they have a policy of taking in only the ‘very best’.

Here are a few things I would like to say as a lifelong teacher who also happened to be a better than average student in his time:

1.   Do the ‘very best’ habitually go for higher academics (recall gentlemen called Tagore and Sachin Tendulkar and Vishwanathan Anand and Dhirubhai Ambani) at all?
2. Of those who do, since when did the ‘very best’ start going for commerce studies?
3.  As for colleges indulging in this farce of setting 94% or 97% as their cut-off requirement, when will it cease? Isn’t it an open secret that most of those who score such marks these days are only slightly better than duds (most secondary- and higher secondary level toppers, briefly but ecstatically celebrated in the media, are never thereafter heard of again, as I have personally checked for nearly three decades: at most they become faceless managers in banks or power plants, working 12-hour days for a pittance)? I can also personally vouch that of all the scores of my own pupils who have got 90%-plus marks in ICSE English this year, hardly a handful ever scored more than 70% in the tests I gave them in class, even objective-type tests when I called out the answers and they marked themselves! Since the boards grossly inflate their abilities (and egos), why not prick the balloon by telling the colleges to select them strictly on the basis of their scores in standardized entrance tests, the way the engineering and medical colleges (and some top-of-the-line liberal arts colleges, like St. Stephen’s in Delhi and Presidency in Kolkata) do?
4.   And what about the school and plus-two boards deciding to give marks more sensibly, so that one has to be really, really good (as it was in my day) to score an aggregate higher than 80%, and 90% meant sure-shot Nobel Prize material? Would such a decision hurt anybody but idle semi-literate middle class mothers whose whole existence pivots around boasting about their children’s examination prowess before other equally stupid females?


Anonymous said...

In the same context I read somewhere recently, had the likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Shakespeare, Amartya Sen or J.R Hicks applied to study Literature or Economics in any of these colleges in times as todays, they would have had been denied admission as they didn't meet the cut-offs.


ginger candy said...

Dear Sir,

When I first heard this news in Twitter, I immediately dismissed it as rubbish, you know, the sort of thing that medium gets flooded with day and night. Imagine my surprise when I read it on the front page of a national newspaper a few hours later! I think you have said it absolutely right that colleges should select students based on standardized entrance examinations. And not to mention that these exams need to be designed so as to somewhat accurately measure the merit of a student, rather than being a "let's-see-who-can-best-puke-memorized-stuff-on-an-answer-sheet" contest.

The way school boards have decided to grade students in the recent years is preposterous. I am not sure where else in the world a teenager has to commit suicide because she didn't get into any good college in Delhi even after scoring 86 percent in her board exams. This insanity has to stop. Also, it must be realized that a high score in a board exam doesn't necessarily mean high quality; in fact, under present circumstances, it means nothing except the fact that that particular student can memorize a high amount of data and accurately recall it in exams. I heard from my friends a few years ago that some schools (apparently reputed ones too) in Tamil Nadu have taken this policy to heart, thereby instructing the students to memorize the front page of "The Hindu" in the morning and getting them to recite it verbatim in class, so that they develop better "memory power" (and frankly, what else do you need to ace the board exams?).

But who would care to listen in a country where students (and their parents) are hugely incapable of aiming for a career better than a software peddler in a third-class IT company, and getting exactly that sort of education where they don't have to read another book for the rest of their lives once they are done with their degrees? Such it goes....


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

This is one of the most depressing events that is happening in India's education system (if at all there is something like that existing any longer!).

I am speechless to comment on this.

Pity it is India that suffers as always.



Rajdeep said...

Haha! The way most Indians want to inflate their egos is funny. As Sir has mentioned, all those "toppers" mentioned every year leave no imprint on the face of the earth.
For a decade, the prowess of Indians in Mathematics is being advertized in some countries like Japan. (Goes without saying that Japan has not started importing such great Mathematical "geniuses" yet!) This is mainly due to the way some Indians, probably suffering from deep inferiority complex themselves are trying to spread. And what does that special prowess mean? It means an ability to recite multiplication tables from memory! Did anyone bother to find out how many multiplication tables Einstein could recite? Or does it really matter? Any dud without serious memory problems could do that. And the fact remains that many countries far outperform their Indian "genius" counterparts in the Maths Olympiad!

Rajdeep said...

Here is an article with a slightly different flavor. Hope the good debate continues!


nkr said...


a short story by Chetan Bhagat exemplifying the problem - http://www.hindustantimes.com/chetan-bhagat-tells-us-a-short-story/article1-436685.aspx


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Both very timely and apposite links, Rajdeep and Nirman: thank you both. I hope a lot of young people will read them closely and take the messages to heart for their own good!

One more thing to ponder over: if, as I have insisted, most of the 90%-plus scorers are little better than duds (especially when it comes to things like GK, writing and inter-personal skills), can you imagine the mental levels of those who score less than 60% marks (and I am not forgetting that a few geniuses may be lurking among the millions of morons...)? And to think that lots of them are becoming doctors and engineers on the strength of their dads' money or connections! God help us all.

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,

I agree with every word that you have written in this post. A student, who is considered to be average in language subjects (as far as I know), scored 97 in Bengali and 96 in English in the state board's Higher Secondary Exam! Do they give full marks for the long-answer type questions?
And the last point is really what should be done. The lines between mediocrity and 'very best' are now completely blurred. And what I realised when I sat for the entrance tests of various colleges for English was what you had said repeatedly in the classes, it's more important to read books, watch movies and practise writing instead of cramming up textbooks to get through these tests.
Also shouldn't board exams have a paper on GK, something that can't be learned from textbooks alone?

Thanks and with regards,

Anonymous said...

This is one question I've had for a long time now. Will there ever come a time in India where there will be cohesiveness amongst two government agencies both working for public interest?? Where on one hand our honourable HRD minister on getting knowledge of the "UNREASONABLE" cut-off marks directed the Vice Chancellor and the principals of various colleges to take note of the situations, on the other hand the colleges proudly declare that they are already full in their first list (SRCC @ 96%, Hindu @ 95.5%) itself and a second cut off should not be expected and the vice chancellor is sleeping in peace not even caring to address the aspiring students on the current situation. If no steps are to be taken for students welfare then why exactly are such announcements made by people sitting at the helm with no sense of responsiblity?


Sunup said...


Very recently I saw a news feature on this same topic in Times Now. It seems that more than 2700 kids scored more than 95% in CBSE this year. They didn't have the statistics for the other examination Boards. No wonder the cut off marks in these sought-after colleges are so high. Like Sayantika said, do they give full marks to essay type answers too, nowadays? Seeing all this admission related drama, I feel that Kapil Sibal has a point on doing away with Board exams and implementing a national college level entrance test for admissions. At least that would, to a certain extent, ensure that everyone has a fair chance in entering a college/stream of their choice.


Suvro Chatterjee said...


All our authority figures in this country live by the maxim 'Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you' (and then try shoving the trouble under the carpet for as long as you can!)


That's the nub of the problem, you see. Being typically shortsighted as most of us are, the board authorities, when they first started giving away marks lavishly, never anticipated that it would come to this: thousands of 'top-grade' (haha) students being turned away by good colleges because they are not 'good enough'. Apparently these authorities, like most parents, had never thought that thousands of examinees scoring 95%-plus marks in the aggregate is patently absurd. Result: we see today that 'very poor' students, who score a mere 80% or less, can only hope to become hotel waiters or call-centre employees or sales agents these days... or schoolteachers!

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

Sir ,
This is really "A hurdle too high " and i regret the fact that i took so long to understand this !

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the link, Debotosh: I must say your eye is becoming visibly sharper and your mind more thoughtful. I can see the same from your occasional letters to the editor of the newspaper that we both read. Anyone who wants to make fullest use of this blog should always visit and read through the links you have provided.

I am much more cynical about the short- and medium term prospects for education in India than the writer of that article, however. Merely raising salaries will have very little positive effect. Salaries in both school and colleges have been raised pretty sharply in recent times: yet hundreds of teaching posts in even 'elite' places like the IITs are lying vacant still, and the less said about the new generation of people becoming teachers in school the better, as I hear from my daughter and her contemporaries. Likewise, merely having a PhD stopped being an indicator of talent and ability to teach long ago, as I haven written earlier on this blog itself. It is also true, as I hear from some old boys, that some old-timers are still doggedly giving of their best as teachers at all levels from KG to PG all over the country, but they are a dying breed. Teaching needs idealism and concentration, patience and dedication, tip-of-the-fingers knowledge and compassion as hardly any other occupation does: and these are not the qualities that the present-day educational system either nurtures or encourages... India is going to face a teacher-famine very soon!

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

Thank you , sir. I am truly grateful to you for all that you have made me understand in the last five years . I hope to improve as much as possible in the future !

Shilpi said...

I read that link, and that 1,2,3... method as being made to sound like some sort of sword-solution makes me see red in more ways than I can list.

And so we do away with the Board examinations, and who is doing the year-round assessment? The same teacher teaching the class, right? Right. And, there’s a big problem (it's already been mentioned on this blog in early Feb').

And how does a grade-system solve even the old problem? Suddenly nobody will want an 'A' or an 'A+', and institutions and students (and their mothers) will all be happy with B's and C's? Is there some imaginary grade-system that I've missed, where there is no cut-off and no hankering for an A+? One needs to look at the systems, which do have a grade-system, and notice that grades replacing marks is no grand sword solution. I’m not even going into grade inflation (just like marks inflation) and the many pretty ways that's put into practice.

And how exactly is it problematic having ranks or marks or grades for examinations? That’s not the real problem. It's the mentality to do with grades, and the same utterly useless 'marks-obsessed' mentality sticks (just becomes ‘grades-obsessed’) unless we change in how we approach education.

Also, I don't have anything against research scientists nor against Research Universities per se but I do have a problem when it is just one of the unstated assumptions that teaching is something that can be done on the side without a combination of remarkable talents, interest and commitment (and that it isn't important enough) or to imagine (leaving out individual exceptions) that a ‘good’ researcher will automatically be a good teacher. The ability to publish academic papers in a sub-sub-sub specialized field these days does not make one a good teacher, leave alone a fine one. And the PhD bit makes me laugh.

As for the brightest and best bit making a beeline to be teachers simply because the pay package is made attractive: I could say a lot more but one need only look at the pay-scales for so many thousands of researchers cum professors in highly ranked universities. They get paid for doing research and for their publications - not for teaching really. It's an unstated but accepted practice. And that attractive pay doesn't make one a good teacher in the classroom. I won't say I know about all the things that will work like a charm - but I certainly will say that I know what won't!

Education doesn’t transmit itself. It is transmitted by teachers, and it says a lot when an article on education talks about the purported sword-solutions but doesn't say a word about the quality (or the general and pathetic lack thereof) of teachers, and of (all) the rare abilities that go into making an outstanding teacher.

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

This one is funny : http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150694662735188

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

An average student writes :

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks again, Debotosh. I liked the article so much that I have immediately dashed off a congratulatory email to the author.

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

that was the same thing i did yesterday !

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

This came as a reply to the article about 100% ,today : http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-openpage/article2234689.ece

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Many thanks indeed, Debotosh. I have immediately sent the link to some people who might, I think, benefit greatly from it.

The author is, alas, a retired professor of psychology. He will certainly not impress the kind of parents we have hereabouts - those who think that there is nothing worthwhile for their children to become except doctors or engineers!

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

When there is no CHOICE , we go for the HOBSON'S CHOICE : http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-openpage/article2309864.ece

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Funny that there's no input here from those who did not walk the doctor/engineer route at all, and are now doing very well indeed as journalists, bureaucrats, lawyers, CAs, businessmen, filmmakers, actors, sportsmen, singers, teachers, interior decorators and what have you... let me remind my readers that I haven't done too badly for myself, and there are private tutors in India who drive BMWs and need to go around with armed guards! I dare say not one of my engineer/MBA ex-students can boast of as much, though they might be corporate executives! Indeed, how many of those pathetic young men make more than Rs. 100,000 a month after taxes, I'd like to know...