The impossibly high cut-offs for admission in Delhi University (DU) colleges reaching the absurdity of 100% is an emergency that has been brought about by not taking a meaningful note of the progressively rising cut-off marks every year over the last few years.
But what can be done? To begin with, it might be useful to analyse the factors that have brought about this situation. One is the limited number of quality institutions. But we must also acknowledge that an ingredient in the clamour for admission to a particular institution is a matter of perception and brand creation. Then there is the mad race for commerce and economics, as if these are the only courses that promise a future. There is no system in the world that can provide admission to all the students in only two courses in a handful of colleges. If that is the aspiration, then these colleges should be turned into independent universities.
Having said that, there is also no justification for the admission process as it exists today in the DU colleges, whether academically or pedagogically. It is a mere academic convenience, which bases itself on a process of exclusion rather than inclusion. Academically, it wants to slot students into various ‘streams’ from Class 11 onwards and expects them to live with it for the rest of their academic careers. This makes a mockery of broad-based education and kills creativity and innovation. The education system today is like an assembly-line production in which the child, the raw material, enters from one end and comes out from the other as a mass-produced finished product.
The university can at least make a beginning by taking some small steps. One is not to base its admissions on cut-off marks scored only in Class 12. It is cruel to decide a student’s future on just one, three-hour-long examination that comes at the end of 12 years of schooling. Anything can go wrong on a particular day — one may be unwell, there could be a family problem or someone gets caught in a traffic jam on the way to the examination centre.
Besides, the stress of knowing that one exam will decide the ‘future’ can be benumbing. We all know the pathology of board exams — the child is made to drop extracurricular activities, go from one tuition to another, reduce interactions with friends to the minimum, etc. But the solution doesn’t lie in diluting the standards of the boards or awarding unnaturally liberal marks. The problem is not so much about the board exams and results as it is about the admission process to DU colleges.
Why does DU act like a handmaiden to the Central Board of Secondary Education? It must create its own parameters. It can decide to work in percentiles for both Class 10 and Class 12 rather than depend only on marks, and take both into account. It will create a greater parity among the different boards in India, each of which has its own marking system, and DU, being a central university, can’t distinguish among them. Finally, it can launch a SAT-like (Scholastic Aptitude Test) examination. Since at least 1986, the National Education Policy has aimed to develop a National Testing Service for India. But that hasn’t happened so far. However, if DU can put some of these things in place — it has the potential to do so — it will not only solve its own problem but also show the way to other academic institutions.
Kavita A Sharma is former principal, Hindu College , University of Delhi.
The views expressed by the author are personal