India’s Biggest Debt: Girl Education

Source: CNN.com

Source: CNN.com

In a country otherwise rife with discrimination and violence against women, and where the most popular currency dealt in is dowry, the CBSE result day is one marked with adulation for the girl student. Their consistent performance is like the greatest retaliation to society. They may have a tough time leaving home after the sun sets, but on every result day, I’m sure boys and their parents stay indoors after dawn staying that they’re celebrating with a house party. The reality is, they’re too shy celebrating their Munnu’s 65% while the Munni 2 roofs away – who was the center of their scorn for not getting married at the belated age of 17, schooled their Munnu with a 94%, in Science…Physics, Chemistry & Biology, while Munnu was happy with Botany without maths. He scored a full 34 marks out 100 in the Botany paper, with some tuition classes of course from the village nearby.

Girl child education is not just important for India, it’s also the only way our country can say sorry. India puts a price on women – 1) the opportunity cost in favours reserved for the boy in the family, and 2) the dowry a girl’s family is expected to pay. Dowry is many times an instant loan a father’s bank account is debited with when a girl is born.

If CBSE marks is your measurement for efficient use of resources, it’s very clear who’s using it optimally. For decades of under-performance of key infrastructure sectos, here’s a human capital that is displaying exemplary performance.

Education is a debt that we’ve withheld from paying back for far too long. Once paid off, assets will be created and liabilities settled. A well educated public is a well ruled one, a learned girl is a better understood one. It’s time India started understanding girls better, one class at a time.

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Indian Education System’s New Minority – Boys

The recent declaration of 10th & 12 Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) results brought with it many things – adulation, celebration, and a phenomena I’ve been noticing since years before it was my turn to take these exams: girls outperforming boys.

There’s another observation – students have been doing exceedingly well….in pushing the cut-off rates for undergraduate universities higher. As scores across the board jump several points, it nudges forward the minimum percentage score that qualifies one for a prestigious university seat in India. Take this bizarre event in 2011, for instance, when the first cut-off list for some Delhi University (DU) colleges didn’t have a qualifying percentage,  rather it was a benchmark that Indian parents compare their children with – 100%.

This situation got many people worried, including those who trembled at the thought of not getting a college seat while warming the political one.

The Test Today

A combination of both observations stated above presents a queer situation today. Results being lopsided in favour of girls and the overall scores being on the higher side has not just pushed the cut-off rates, the rates are split at different levels for boys and girls. For a B.Com course in Christ University, the cutoffs are 87% for boys and 91% for girls for Karnataka students. Being from a state outside Karnataka comes with a premium, with cut-offs at 93% and 96% for boys and girls. In both cases, girls are winning…and losing at the same time.

It’s possible that this situation is not new, but I would certainly not have come across this cocktail observation without this post from teacher of Economics at my alma mater, and in many ways a mentor –

Pranita

Market Forces At Play

Ms. Pranita’s objection is fair, and we’ll return shortly to understand her strong views. The reason for the different cut-off points, on the other hand, can be discerned from an area this teacher excels in – Economics.  It is indeed the high scores and limited University seats that have created this acute condition. There’s a visible inflationary trend in marks – commensurate with a demand for good university education, but not enough intake capacity at the universities. The marks push the demand for the admission seats, whereby the supplier (read university) demands a higher percentage (read price) for the same. Since girls score higher than boys, the board has set a stricter limit for girls which, as we can observe above, is a good 3-4 percentage points higher.

(Sometimes the capacity limits are flouted. Over-capacity forces teachers to improvise, for instance by holding lectures in auditoriums & seminar halls, leading to stress on resources and infrastructure. )

This trend begs a question- are the rising scores a result a hard-work endured by students, or is it the CBSE boards’ testament to grant a better sense of achievement amongst the youth? Either way, what would frustrate an educationist like Ms. Pranita is not this dichotomy as much as the discriminatory limits for girls & boys. If these marks are the sole measurement for admission, why should there be a differential whereby boys are cushioned against an unfavourable result? In Ms. Pranita’s own probing words –

Why abolish merit-based admission policy (with the discriminatory cut-off levels)? Every year, the competition is getting tougher for the girls .. fault lies with the system which has not provided enough capacity.

Indeed, the fault does lie with the system, and the tougher competition for girls she talks of transcends mere numbers. A girl’s road to higher education in India is rife with potholes of prejudiced challenges – right from money, societal pressure, “belated” marriage concerns and many others that boys are seldom subject to. The last thing we need is limiting more girls from entering higher education because, well, they’re just too good. Girls don’t need this compliment (if I can dare speak for them, that is). They’re flattered, but no thanks.

Going The Minority Way

This situation has given rise to Indian education system’s latest minority in the form of boys. The issue of minorities in education brings the imagery of heated debates around “unfair advantages” associated with quotas. Indeed, we wouldn’t want the young men of our country to tread the way of a marginalised community that needs a helping hand. Their very access to a classroom, teachers and the exam room is an endowment that should be exploited to their advantage. For girls, basic access to education is far from an endowment, it’s an arduous journey in which they seem to be giving the boys a run for their dowry…err…I mean money. If anyone, it would be the girls who’d deserve a special treatment to salvage society’s timeless flagrant traditions & practices. But while girls are obviating the need for any ‘special treatment’ that comes with its own set of counter-productive results, the present normal is best shaped by championing equality.

Remarks For The Education Board

If the selection is rigorously merit-based, then let the selected be cream of the crop irrespective of their gender. If the diligence of a 96%er girl comes to fruition, the 95%er should not be denied the same fate merely to fill in more masculinity in the classroom. A level playing field would mean that boys are not just pitted against their laziness, distractions and lack of concern for academic excellence, but against the consistent lead of girls too.

Should this situation warrant a more thorough analysis, which I believe it does, the questions should delve deeper into the very essence of CBSE grading system. Where does the education system go with such arbitrary marking system? Flare points are in the exponential increase in the scores without a proportionate increase in well-resourced institutes. A glut in good scorers and a lack of accommodating institutes is an embarrassment for a country that prides on the Visva-Bharatis of yesteryears and the IITs of today.

The question that should arise after viewing the results, in the minds of boys and girls alike, should not only be “what next?” but also, “how far?”

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The Folly of Exam Scores

Source - http://news.distractify.com/culture/satirical-paintings/?v=1

Created by Polish artist – Pawel Kuczynski

“I started studying from the beginning of the year; I revised daily, attended extra classes and even went to coaching institutes in order to excel in my examinations. I am very happy with the outcome, all my hard work paid off,” – says the UAE topper in the CBSE board exams to a newspaper.

The results of the 12th Board examinations (CBSE) were announced on 29th May, 2014 and to the amusement of many, these were some of the best scores in the recent years. The student quoted above scored a staggering 98.2%. The toil of the thousands of students had finally come down to a number, that, though expresses in absolute the achievement of the individual,  will always be inevitably held relative to the performance of his or her immediate peers and the school at large. The final reports on the performance of students reek of statistics and numbers too – the percentage of students who passed, those who scored above 90%, classification of achievers between boys and girls and so on.

One cannot discount the hard work put into the preparations – of students, teachers, and even of friends who constantly aid each other with notes and many a times with the much needed moral support. The joy of receiving good scores is, at least in that moment, unparalleled. While the news of good grades is certainly a reason to celebrate, one cannot ignore that the academic landscape, especially that of CBSE and India at large, is archaic and static with students spending consecutive years in bettering just one thing – scores.

I am a product of the same academic structure and I have spent my life as a student on the crossroads of two contrasting views – one, that competitive scores are an integral means to better opportunities for higher studies and employment, and the other that  marks are merely rudimentary indicators that are inferior to  psychological strength and street-smartness. Unsure if it is for the better or is an addition to my dilemma, I have not managed to lift myself from this middle ground.

I recognise that marks are not the sole pedestal to leverage ones strengths, and that gathering experience, reading, interacting with influential people and other activities can often lead to development of the self in cases where great academic scores may fall short. At the same time, I am in complete disagreement with the popular free-wheeling  notion of absolute futility of decent marks. Trying and achieving good grades is the most basic disposition of heavy financial investment in one’s education. More over, achieving good grades need not be taken at face value. It reflects several attitudes and aspects of the achiever – the dedication, drive to excel, ability to grasp concepts and convince examiners. My point is not to shun the concept of marks, but to go beyond it.

What is being completely ignored in this mix of academics is the importance of encouraging students to think beyond their text books and seek inspiration from the surroundings and nature. I don’t remember a single moment in the classroom when our teachers asked us or made us read the educational plight of unfortunate children around the globe. We were never recommended reading material that depicted the effects of war and reveal the specific ramifications of turmoil while we sat largely insulated from and  insensitive to human sufferings. What does money really mean? What happens if banks themselves go bankrupt? How did the financial crisis of 2008 alter family relations? In addition, never was our mind conditioned to delve into the lives of the non-teaching staff – the janitors, the bus conductors or the ones who served us palm sized pizzas in the canteen. Our paths cross often, but we never stopped for even a brief greeting. Where did they live? What made them happy? Do they have children at home who they wish studied with us? What was the proudest moment in their life? Do they feel their youth returning to them from a bygone era when they deliver their lecture, or do they feel bogged down by the weight of the course structure? Why did they choose the subject they teach? Do teachers have any regrets?

Not wandering into these philosophical tendencies of the mind has created brains that erupt into erratic activity in moments before the exam, to absorb something that they may never care to remember again. What they study reflects in their answer sheets, but not in their personalities. Not inquiring into these prominent aspects of society, we miss out on opportunities to emancipate ourselves from a sedentary lifestyle that is too comfortable to be permanent. We lose the chance of expanding our imagination and making various elements of society a part of our natural thought pattern. Here, not just creativity is killed, but the natural affinity for inquisitiveness and inquiry is stifled under the iron fist of academic lessons.

While the academic structure remains more or less the same, our surroundings are changing rapidly. What mattered to people yesterday has been compromised for what they can afford today and we students today are compelled to study from literature that would make little difference tomorrow. Instead of probing into the difficult questions, we are preparing ourselves to directly answer in examinations. In the heroic quote of the UAE topper that I mentioned in the beginning, I sense an ominous blanket of fullness and nothingness at the same time. Fullness of the positive attitude towards setting everything forthright for a successful academic venture, and the nothingness in the failure to express what a young student can achieve without being confined to closed doors of incessant academic training. I sense the nothingness in disregarding the role of art and nature in achieving a successful and happy outcome, the nothingness from not pushing oneself to understand the environment and the society deeper, and the nothingness in knowing that this quote will be stuck on refrigerators of middle class Indian parents as a reference for their children.

The folly of marks is not just in what one ignores, but also what cannot be changed. Marks still remain one of the most important aspects for relief in academic fees and competitive scholarships, and it still remains the reason for pride and happiness in an average Indian household. And disappointingly, it will still be a reason for me to occasionally fret over losing a few extra digits.

We’ve already spent a significant amount of our time studying static texts off books mandated by the course. It is  now time to pick a leaf from the books of people who can fascinate us with stories, only if we went beyond the chapter titled ‘scores’.