Sixteen-year-old Tanvi Jain, who’s just finished class X at a Delhi school, was keen on studying in Pune, Maharashtra’s educational hotspot. Soon after her CBSE results last month, she went to Pune for admission to a junior college. However, after the Bombay High Court scrapped the state government’s ‘best five’ formula, which tilts admissions in favour of students of the state’s own board, there is no clarity on when admission windows will open.
Though Chief Minister Ashok Chavan wants to appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling, students like Tanvi are left in the lurch in the interim. This is the third straight year that junior college admissions have been thrown into chaos and the state government has had its favouritism nixed by the Judiciary. Two years ago, Maharashtra tried to sneak in a devious ‘percentile’ formula, and last year, a hefty quota for state board students. The court struck down both. Yet, the government remains stubborn.
The latest High Court ruling—against the latest trick—comes as relief for students under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), whose parents had filed a petition against the state’s February order asking colleges to consider an aggregate of a State Secondary Certificate (SSC) applicant’s ‘best five’ subjects’ marks for admission. This, while CBSE and ICSE students would have all seven subjects counted for the same.
Dismissing the ‘best five’ formula, the High Court censured the government and termed it ‘discriminatory’. Acting Chief Justice JN Patel and Justice SC Dharmadhikari observed in their order that the formula ‘violates the mandate of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution’ (guaranteeing citizens equality before the law) and ‘discriminates between similarly situated students’. This has made SSC students gulp in dismay. Many had focused solely on five subjects to maximise their admission chances.
Maharashtra’s education system is a mess. There is no school education minister, with the agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat holding additional charge of the ministry. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a member of the state’s ruling coalition, lays blame for the mess at the door of the Congress, which holds the portfolio under the power sharing formula. “The main problem is that the Congress is not handling the school education ministry with the seriousness it deserves,” says Gurunath Kulkarni, NCP spokesman, unhappy that no homework is being done to guide policy shifts. “This is the reason why its proposals are getting rejected all the time,” he adds.
For years together, there has been no sign of a policy that privileges the cause of education. Arundhati Chavan, president of the PTA United Forum, has accused the state government of seeking ‘cheap publicity’ as a way to play to the Marathi galleries. The divide between SSC and ‘Delhi board’ students is worsened by the formers’ allegation that the latter are marked far more leniently. The latter believe that they are simply brighter as students; they certainly belong to the fancier schools, attended by the elite. Across the state, about 8,289 ICSE, 8,032 CBSE and 1.3 million SSC students have passed their class X board examinations this year. An estimated 40,928 students got 90 per cent marks and above on a ‘best five’ calculation, and the competition to get into good colleges is fierce. Plus, Mumbai and Pune attract students from other parts of India. That’s extra pressure.
Some trace the trouble to the previous Sena-BJP regime, which in 1995 started running rough-shod over the education system, deleting a historical reference here, twisting a factual event there, and adding more than a tinge of saffron to the syllabus. By 1999, frequent changes in textbooks resulted in printing delays, kicking the academic year out of whack.
The Congress-NCP alliance came to power in 1999, and the late Ramakrishna More, a teacher, took charge of the ministry. He had his own changes. Among them, English was to begin from class one, and Marathi was made an optional subject. This led to a furore among parent associations and political parties. The decision was revoked, and both languages are now taught right from class one.
Ramakrishna More was succeeded by Amarish Patel, who owns the Kewalramani Trust which runs Ruparel College and several schools. Chaos reigned during his tenure. Textbooks had to be recalled from the market because of printing errors, and were not available even three months into the academic year. Vasant Purkhe, a tribal leader who runs his own school, took over from Patel. He tried to introduce sex education in schools, a project that evoked an even bigger furore. No less controversial was his attempt to have teachers held accountable for students’ performance.
NEW CARVE UP
In 2008, Purkhe unveiled a ‘percentile system’ for admissions to junior colleges. Under this attempt at standardisation of marks, the state asked colleges to take a student’s percentage, divide it by the average of the top 10 percentages from that particular board, and then multiply by 100. The final score (a percentile) would be used for admission. It went to court. In the interim, the state revived an old policy asking colleges to keep 70 per cent of all seats for students from the same district. The High Court knocked down both, ruling vocally against percentiles and glaring down the reservation policy until it was withdrawn.
Undeterred, just before the 2009 Assembly polls, the Congress appointed Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, an owner of the Pravara Education Society, as minister for school education. He introduced a 90:10 formula for admissions. Under this, 90 per cent of all college seats were to be reserved for students from the state board, with ICSE/ CBSE students sharing the rest. The High Court scrapped it.
Thorat, who took charge post-polls, is as ineffective as his predecessors, most of whom have been education barons themselves, with their own interests to promote—cloaked, all so often, in concern for the state’s Marathi hoi polloi. That ‘Delhi board’ schools tend to serve the state’s Anglophone elite, of course, only makes them expedient targets.