By Sandeep Sahu
At a surface level, the decision to earmark a certain percentage of engineering and medical seats for students of government schools is unexceptionable. Students who have the misfortune of studying in government schools are indeed at a great disadvantage vis-à-vis their counterparts in elite private schools, especially in urban areas, when it comes to all-India entrance examinations like JEE and NEET. The need for providing a level playing field, therefore, can hardly be overemphasized. But the cure for this malaise found by the state government, I am afraid, is worse than the disease itself.
The solution to this problem lies in improving the standard of education in government schools and a curriculum that is in tune with the demands of the modern times and not in forcing students - and parents – to opt for government schools for no better reason than an engineering or medical seat. The decision by the state cabinet on Monday to reserve seats in engineering and medical colleges for government school pass outs is, in effect, an admission by the government that the state of schools run by it is beyond redemption. It is also the clearest possible indication that far from taking up the onerous task of rebuilding, restructuring and reviving the school education system, the government has thrown in the towel and opted for the easier, expedient way out by reserving seats for students of such schools.
One does not have to be an educationist to realise that rebuilding the school education system and bringing it up to speed with the requirements of the modern times is a Herculean task. But the AAP government in Delhi has shown that it is not impossible if the government is determined to do what it takes to achieve this. It would require massive investments in school infrastructure, appointment – and regular training - of teachers on a large scale and a curriculum that broadly follows the CBSE pattern. It also needs specialized coaching by professionals with the JEE and NEET syllabus in mind. But above all, it requires political will. In taking the retrograde decision to reserve engineering and medical seats for government school students, the state government has shown that it lacks this all-important attribute. And it has no desire to acquire it either!
Crucify this columnist for batting for private schools, if you want. But Monday’s cabinet decision is unfair to the students of private schools. You cannot punish someone just because s/he opts not to study in a government school lacking everything a school should have: proper class rooms, toilets, labs, libraries, playgrounds and – above all – good teachers who understand the demands of the modern times. Conversely, you cannot reward someone just because s/he opts to study in a school lacking all this. It is an unfair advantage that may help a student get an engineering or medical seat but would not stand him/her in good stead once he takes admission. S/he would be found wanting while trying to cope with the curriculum of the technical/professional course. In that sense, it is unfair to the government school student too!
There would obviously be a temptation to equate the reservation of seats for government school students with the reservation for ST/SC/OBC students. But we should not forget that the latter is an exercise to address a centuries old disadvantage suffered because of birth (in which a student does not have a choice). The former, in contrast, is not an attempt to give an unfair advantage to someone for making a choice – of studying in a government school. Using the ‘level playing field’ argument to justify it, therefore, is ingenious. After all, students passing out from government schools in the past did compete – and succeed – in the toughest all-India competitions, not just for engineering and medical seats, but in the Indian Civil Services as well. Hence, it is like comparing apples with oranges.
Forcing parents to send their children to ill-equipped, poorly staffed schools would not prepare students for the demands of the future. The need of the hour is to earmark a substantial portion of the state budget to education, especially at the primary and secondary levels; fill up teacher vacancies at all levels and start rebuilding and restructuring the rotten school education system. It would obviously take years to accomplish. But the effort – and the expenditure – would be worth it because it would equip subsequent generations of government school students to compete with others and not depend on the crumbs thrown by the government in its quest for cheap popularity.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)