The Tamil Nadu government's decision to abolish the common entrance examination and admit students to professional colleges on the basis of marks obtained in the Plus 2 examination is broadly welcomed by educationists.
IN a surprise action, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced on June 6 the immediate abolition of common entrance examinations for admission to professional colleges. Admissions henceforth would be based "purely on the basis of the marks obtained in the Plus 2 examination and following the rule of reservation", she said in a statement. The admissions will be conducted under the single window system of counselling, as in the previous years.
The government's decision to do away with the entrance examination rested mainly on four grounds: the "enormous increase in the number of seats available in professional colleges" in recent years making an additional filter point redundant, the qualitative improvement in the students' performance in the Plus 2 examination itself in a better school atmosphere that has been brought in over the years, the trauma and the extra burden that the entrance examinations cause to students and parents, and the perception that selection through entrance examination put students from rural backgrounds in a relatively disadvantageous position.
Also abolished with the entrance test is the "improvement examination" system, which provided students a second attempt to improve their score in the Plus 2 examination. The Chief Minister said that this system "led to a problematic situation in admissions where a large percentage of seats are cornered by a small number of students who are in a position to take such improvement examination."
The announcement has been broadly welcomed by educationists, students' associations and political parties, besides, of course, representatives of the over 200 self-financing engineering colleges, which are likely to benefit the most, because they can hope to fill all seats in the absence of the gruelling entrance examinations. There has, however, been some resentment over the timing of the announcement, because the Common Entrance Examination this year had taken place and the results announced. Also, not many share the Chief Minister's perception that the new arrangement will improve the chances of rural students. Over 45 per cent of the total seats in self financing colleges are under the purview of the managements which collect unaffordable fees.
The new arrangement is a challenge to the administrators of the single window system because they have to prepare a merit list of over 1.5 lakh applicants from different streams, such as the State Board of Higher Secondary Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education, to fill a little over 45,000 of the 80,000-odd total seats that come under the counselling system. For this, they have to evolve a scientific and transparent procedure to "level" the performances of all applicants. Another problem is ranking those with the same marks. The government has come out with certain guidelines.
FOR students, parents, admission administrators, managements of colleges and the government alike, the admission season (April-July) has been a trying time for the past several years. Adding to their misery last year was a lot of litigation over procedural and other questions. The litigation related to the questions in the Biology paper of the Entrance Examination and the treatment of candidates who scored high marks in the "improvement examinations". Many cases concerning admissions to the professional colleges are still pending with either the High Court or the Supreme Court.
Several parents and education experts have expressed the fear that the new procedure may also be taken to court by affected parties, for instance, those who have scored high cut-off marks in the May 2005 Common Entrance Test (CET), which now stands cancelled.
Some lawyers have observed that since Education comes in the State List, the State governments are free to have their own admission procedure. Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder Dr. S. Ramadoss wanted the State government to issue an ordinance to provide a suitable legal cover to the scrapping of the entrance examination. "Even the Assembly can be convened for a special session for passing a law," Ramadoss said. He also wanted separate reservation of seats for rural students in professional colleges. (In 1997, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam [DMK] government introduced a 15 per cent reservation for rural students in professional courses and in 2002 the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam [AIADMK] government raised this percentage to 25. This reservation was, however, quashed by the Madras High Court. The State government did not go in appeal against this judgment.)
THE CET made its entry in the procedure for professional college admissions in 1984. It replaced the earlier interview system that came into disrepute following complaints of favouritism and corruption. For the best part of the last two decades the entrance examination system had worked well, particularly after it was brought under the control of Anna University. Only after the sudden jump in the number of self-financing engineering colleges in the mid-1990s in Tamil Nadu and neighbouring States and also the huge rise in the demand for technical education following the Information Technology and software boom, did students and parents begin to feel the burden of entrance examinations. In their hunt for seats, students were forced to appear for more than one entrance examination.
Several political parties in the State, particularly the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.) and the PMK, were demanding for long abolition of the entrance examination. This year, when the PMK revived its demand, it drew support from more parties, including the DMK. In fact, the PMK had planned an agitation with the support of other parties to press the demand on June 7.
Welcoming the abolition of the common entrance examination system, Dr. M. Anandakrishnan, eminent educationist and Chairman, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), said that the need to appear for a number of entrance examinations had caused a lot of tension among students and parents. Recalling the comment of the former Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Yash Pal, that the concept of entrance examination was a national curse, Anandakrishnan, who is also a former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, said the "coaching centres" that had mushroomed in recent years had only made things worse. These not only made quick money but also blunted students' inherent learning skills. The kind of "coaching" they provided would keep the students dependent on others for the rest of their lives, he said. Besides, thousands of students who come from a rural background were at a disadvantage when competing with city-bred students from elite sections, "coached" by the specialised centres. In his view, the students who pass through the coaching centres no doubt do well in the common entrance examination, but many of them cannot claim to have a fair understanding of the subjects. These students in the long run would lose the capacity for learning by themselves, learning things other than what they study, and questioning. According to him, studies have shown that entrance examination toppers seldom figure in the rank lists of engineering or medical examinations later.
Almost similar is the way in which a section of students is "coached", not "taught", to improve their Plus 2 score in the "improvement examinations", introduced in 2001 apparently with the intention of helping genuine cases in which students fail to score good marks in their first attempt for whatever reasons. This system also has come to be abused. Last year a substantial number of seats in engineering and medical colleges are believed to have gone to "improvement" candidates. In fact, three such candidates figure in the list of 10 toppers in this year's entrance examination.
STATE president of the Students Federation of India (SFI) G. Selva and State secretary L. Shanmugasundaram have, in a joint statement, welcomed the abolition of the entrance examination because, they stated, it would reduce to some extent the tension among students and parents caused not only by the entrance test but also by litigation, sometimes protracted, over the issues involved. If in the last two years about 20,000 seats remained unfilled, it was mainly because the fee collected (Rs.35,000) was too high for students from poor families. The statement said that the State government had the responsibility of keeping the self-financing colleges under control and that it should press the Centre to initiate legislative measures, if necessary, for the purpose. The other potential parties also should exert pressure on the Centre for this, it added.
Selva did not agree that the mere abolition of entrance examination would improve the chances of the weaker sections in rural areas. The government should reduce the fees to enable more students from downtrodden families to get technical education, he said. The quality of education in rural schools should be improved by filling all vacant posts of teachers. In his view, instead of seeing the problem from rural and urban angles, the most appropriate classification would be Tamil medium and English medium students, because the vast majority of Tamil medium students are from the less privileged social groups.
Educationists have also urged the need to strengthen the Plus 2 course, now that it is the only qualifying examination for entry into professional colleges. Anandakrishnan said that the Plus 1 and Plus 2 syllabi should be restructured if the Plus 2 examination had to be made a true determinant of the student's capacity to pursue studies in professional colleges. Stressing the need to bridge the large gulf between students in urban and rural areas, Anandakrishnan suggested that the schools in rural areas be enabled to provide students with greater access to tools and techniques needed for learning.