05 July, 2007

School, results and cut-offs

Warning: Another long post. Ok, I'll edit it some.

I don't remember my days from school very fondly. Aside from physics and algebra, I didn't like what was taught, so I didn't score in exams. I didn't have many friends, and was also bullied and teased. I had a crush which didn't work out. In short, I was a dork. School isn't exactly heaven for dorks. I enjoyed college a LOT more. No, this post is not about me... but if you find my views biased, untrue or even silly, I hope you'll accept this paragraph as an excuse.

Anyway, onto the topic...


The school has ended, time for college
My skills will finally be acknowledged!
For I have those high marks,
Money, to feed the sharks
With all this, who cares for knowledge?

I scored a meagre 75% in the tenth standard. For the uninitiated, India has two "big exams" before college: 10th, and 12th. After 10th, you select a stream, out of Commerce, Arts (Humanities), Science, or various Diploma courses. You study that for two years, then finally give the 12th exams and associated entrance exams to engineering, medical, etc.

I say "meagre" for 75% because if you score below 80%, you don't get admission in even average colleges. I spent my 11th and 12th in a small newly opened junior college. I got better marks in 12th (82%), because I liked science. And with most students opting for engineering, my way to a good degree college was clear. ("Good" is relative... but lets not get into that now. Maybe I'll write a post later on the "state of physics" in degree colleges.)

That one has to opt for sub-standard colleges even if one gets 75% should be an alarm in itself. This year, the cut-offs after 12th are even higher: see this news article. (Cut-offs are the lowest marks for which one can get admission in a college, and this year it's 87% for the top science colleges.) For the reserved categories, the cut-offs are lower by some 10-15% in cases. That means, if you are from the lower classes, you can get admission into a good college even with lower marks. But you'll be bunking most of the lectures. No worry: you'll score enough to get into a good engineering college, whereas others in your class might have to struggle hard.

The high cut-offs are one thing; what worries me is how so many students get 90% or more. How do they study? Do they understand the subject? Are better students being left behind because they're unable to write the "prescribed answers", or "focus on the presentation"?

I don't have the answers. Maybe the high cut-offs dont matter. As someone recently said, "Some years ago, the 100 best students were getting into top colleges, this year too the 100 best students will get into it, no matter what the cutoffs". I disagree. I don't think the exam system gives us the best students. The high scorers are the ones who know everything in the text, but nothing outside. That's why parents marched in protest of out-of-the-syllabus questions in the paper this year, causing the board to award 30(!) grace marks to every student in maths. The plan backfired on the parents: now toppers can't get admission to the top colleges, because everyone has good marks in maths! Can't students handle a tough paper? Why so much pressure on them, their parents, and the authorities?

(So many students have high marks, I'm prompted to a physics joke: Cutoff, or saturation?)

The "system"

Are the 10th exams even important? Students spend their valuable time for the last 2-3 years of school learning the same material twice, in schools and coaching classes. They study "model answers", memorise maths (!!), and are motivated to nothing else: just score high, son! Other methods of evaluating students have regularly been brought down: Internal assesment? "No, how will she score high then? Just exams, please, where she can write the model answers well and get into a good college." For parents, there is no other purpose for a school than to launch their son/daughter into a good college. As a result, students have this attitude too: I want nothing but marks. No knowledge, no loving the subject, just marks will do.

All this fails: students have no interest in, and no knowledge of other subjects than the ones they've taken up after school. No matter how much they scored in them. I know I'm generalising: I know quite a few people who liked History, scored high, and continue to love it. But they are not in the majority. The majority just study for the exams, and will resort to anythign to get marks: from copying, to memorising geometry proofs, to getting "expected" questions from their coaching classes. And of course, everyone studies the same things twice, from two different teachers. Everyone can shell out 15000 for a coaching class because they'll get better marks. If they were any intelligent, they'd realise that would do nothing but push the average up. ;)

And the teachers?

I was coming to that... if they're already learning the same stuff at schools, why do they need coaching classes? Because school teachers are no good, apparently. They won't tell you what to expect in the exams, they wont tell you how to score well. They won't hold
5 prelims. Are they less qualified? Are they not interested in the students? Why? They themselves teach at coaching classes. They're just paid more there.

There are no projects at school, no real creative work. The teachers are reluctant to go outside the syllabus and teach something interesting. There are two reasons for that: They themselves know little of the subject outside the syllabus, and if they don't focus on the exams, the parents will kill them (metaphorically, of course). The syllabus (atleast the state board one) is itself the least interesting creature you'll find here, and the textbooks only worsen it. If one should wonder why English doesn't have real literature, stuff about poetry, and practical speaking leasons, or why Science isn't developed in a more creative and hand-on way, one wouldn't need to go beyond the low quality of the schoolteachers for the answer. Why no sex-ed? Why no extra stuff that is the norm in foreign countries? Well, who'd teach it?

Ok, I've finished complaining. As a postscript, I'd only like to say that the 10th exams don't mean anything. Even the 12th exams don't. Only the CET for engineering and medical does. And entrances are fortunately better designed. So I'd just like to see parents trying to mould their children into creative, intelligent beings, rather than RAM.

I realise I've written only one limerick. So here's one more:

"Can I take part in the school skit?"
"You're in 10th, my dear nit-wit,
The exams are in 6 mon
And you should study, son
So forget creativity and get on with it!"


  1. What you have expressed is,I believe,the general opinion of all people who THINK.But I don't really see much of a change being broubht about,at least in the near future.Thankfully the micro dept. in Ruia is making us rack our brains and use all our potential with ABSOLUTE AVERSION to rote learning.The emphais is on thinking.And oh,the limericks are as good as ever...

  2. Whoa! Your system sounds way different to mine!

    Here in Victoria, Australia your academic future pretty much depends on your ENTER score. It's basically a ranking of your grades compared to every other yr 12 student in the state.
    The sucky thing is it's based on your top 3 subjects plus english and 10% of your grades for any other subjects you do. So you could get A+ for one subject but C for English and English would still be the subject that gets more weight in your ENTER. That could knock down your enter by like, heaps! So a student could be perfect for a course but not get in because they just happen to not be able to articulately express in 45 minutes how the film GATTACA relates to today's society!

    Btw. About the thinking. Over here, in highschool anyway, we're taught to think... just inside the square. Rote learning is less important than applying that learning. I think I was once told that I could be an individual AFTER I got my 90+ ENTER. Lol!

  3. Rote learning has become de rigeur for students in the country. I have done it too. If you guys see the third year math class in our college, you will be flummoxed just by seeing the level of their knowledge. Most of them are just in it to get a 'degree'. Many do not know algebraic expansion formulas that have been taught in school 8 years ago! The teachers are so bad that nobody respects them, absolutely nobody; not even these guys. Those who are really good, do get the opportunities to excel, but in the same class, the gap between the people who know their math(there is only one guy in my class; and it is not me...) and those who do not is bewildering. This is the direct outcome of the seriously flawed education system at the grassroots. There is too much that can be said on this, a comment of this size is just not enough. The problems run too deep to be fathomed, even by educationists.

  4. very much what everyone thinks at the moment..unfortunately we live in a land of bureaucracy.