The Latur pattern of education has helped many a student from the region do well and gain admission to professional colleges.
THE rank lists of secondary as well as higher secondary school examinations in Maharashtra are considered indicators of certain realities in the State. For four consecutive years - from 1998 to 2001 - the toppers in the HSC examination were from Dayanand College, Latur. The merit list for medical as well as engineering seats also had more than a hundred students from Latur district.
The success of Latur is truly amazing. While western Maharashtra progressed economically and socio-culturally Vidarbha and Marathawada regions remained backward as far as education was concerned. Latur, one of the seven districts of drought-prone Marathwada, was a part of Hyderabad State before Independence. Until 1950, students from Marathwada had to go to Hyderabad to attend college. The then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Y.B. Chavan, encouraged the establishment of schools and colleges in rural Marathwada. Gradually, some of these educational institutions came to have well-equipped laboratories and excellent libraries, apart from good teachers.
The decade of 1970-1980 was a critical period for the majority of the colleges in Marathwada. The University Grants Commission (UGC) offered grants in proportion to the number of students. This compelled colleges to send its teachers to the villages in search of students. Dr. J.M Waghmare, the founder principal of the Rajarshi Shahu College, urged fellow teachers to go to the villages and help people overcome their fear of college education. Dr. A.S. Jadhav, the Vice-Principal of the Rajarshi Shahu College, exhorted his colleagues to cut short their vacations and utilise it to teach students. This idea clicked. With teachers devoting personal attention to each student, success became a hallmark of the Rajarshi Shahu College. The working spirit evolved by Waghamre and Jadhav is maintained even now.
With academic competition becoming fierce in the 1980s, teachers in Latur also decided to improve the curriculum and teaching pattern in their colleges. The Rajarshi Shahu College and later the Dayanand College adopted innovative teaching techniques. Every student was given personal guidance after his/her capabilities were evaluated. Parents were briefed and consulted. Suggestion boxes were kept near classrooms so that students could offer their evaluation of the performance of their teachers. Teachers thus became accountable to the students. The Shahu method of education was later adopted by the Mahatma Gandhi College, Ahmedpur, near Latur.
In 1987, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment revoked the restrictions based on geographical regions in the matter of admission to professional colleges. Until then, a student from Marathwada or Konkan could join only colleges in their own region. Now 70 per cent of the total intake in professional colleges are from that particular region and 30 per cent from outside the region, on the basis of merit. From 1988 to 1999, students from the Shahu College accounted for about 120 seats in all government medical colleges and 80 seats in the engineering colleges, in the merit quota. Students of the Dayanand College and the Mahatma Gandhi College were not far behind. Thus Latur grabbed 90 per cent of the open seats in professional colleges across the State year after year. This brought Latur to the limelight in the State. Candidates from the neighbouring districts of Marathwada began to seek admission in Latur colleges.
In 1999, the government of Maharashtra decided to conduct common entrance tests (MH-CET) for all medical colleges. Four years of the test has seen students from the Shahu College leading the lists of successful candidates. The Principal of the Shahu College, R.L. Kawale, says: "The kind of preparation needed for MH-CET is taken care of only in Latur and Ahmedpur." This year 150 students from Latur secured seats in medical colleges.
But there is a lot of debate about the overall quality of education in Latur. Dr. Jadhav admits: "The so-called `Latur pattern' is a technique for getting good marks in HSC examinations. It is not at all ideal education. Parents crave to put their children in medical or engineering colleges and hence this is a demand-driven programme that has nothing to do with the multi-faceted development of a student.''
The real beneficiaries of the Latur system are the rural lower middle class students. Today students from Latur have made their way to the Birla Institute of Technology in Pilani or the Regional Engineering Colleges. They also come back to Latur once a year to guide HSC pass-outs in selecting the right colleges and disciplines.