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Losing the competitive edge

Even without a Common Entrance Test, rural students may not be very successful in the admissions race.

The Tamil Nadu Government's decision to scrap the common entrance test for professional education programmes "to help rural students" may backfire for the intended beneficiaries, if one goes by previous years' statistics.

In the long run, the move can take away the edge which Tamil Nadu candidates enjoy during industry recruitments, industry experts say.

In a context of the Government deciding to ``reduce the syllabus'' — which, teacher experts say, has chopped off the application-oriented parts of the syllabus — the debate can start off with some statistics.

In 2005, nearly 2.35 lakh students appeared for the Tamil Nadu State higher secondary (class XII) examination in the Science group. The figure rose to nearly 3 lakh in 2006. These students were spread across the 66 educational districts.

But in 2006, few students from 15 (of these) districts — predominantly rural — such as Thuckalay, Kovilpatti, Paramakudi, Sivagangai, Gudalur, Periyakulam, Aranthangi, Ariyalur, Nagapattinam, Lalgudi, or Musiri, got an aggregate of (97 per cent marks) required to enter MBBS course in Tamil Nadu.

However, about 70 per cent of the 1,000-plus students who secured this magical figure of 194/200 in the key subjects of Physics, Biology and Chemistry, were only from urban centres such as Chennai, Chengalpattu, Coimbatore, Tiruchi, Tirunelveli, Cuddalore, and of course the famed Namakkal belt.

The situation repeats with more vigour in the Maths, Physics, Chemistry subjects (relevant for engineering stream).

Of the 6,300-plus students who secured 194/200 in the subjects, more than 5,600 were from the urban pockets only. Of the 333 top students (with 99 per cent aggregate), 302 were from the urban areas. Twentyfour educational districts with predominantly rural students did not even have a single student in this top bracket.

The moral of the story... Even without a CET, rural-based students stand little chance compared to the urban peers for entering medical or the top ranked engineering colleges under Anna University.

A veteran examiner and administrator, Dr. C. Ramachandran is puzzled over the removal of the CET or its logic that it helps rural students.

"This makes it far easier for urban students. Rural students who still suffer from lack of good educational infrastructure and teaching methodologies or even community support, will continue to languish. Urban students with access to better infrastructure and coaching facilities will continue to take away large chunks of seats in the preferred professional courses.

"Already students who come into MBBS with 98 or 99 per cent aggregate fail in the I MBBS. Now we can only expect youngsters who memorise lessons to enter even applied areas such as medicine," he adds. The way out: improve teaching-learning processes in rural areas to make such students apply their knowledge for solving problems.

A.K. Pattabhiraman, coordinator for Tata Consultancy Services' academic interface programme, sees a trend in three developments: the scrapping of the CET, the State Government's decision to reduce syllabus content and a move to reduce the pass mark for theory paper in class XII to 30 out of 150.

"The fact is hardly 20 per cent of the 4.5 lakh engineers in the country are employable. But 10 per cent among all of TCS' recruits are from Tamil Nadu because the State has a huge talent pool and the competence levels of the students here are much higher. The three steps being taken now are retrograde. They will reduce standards of the recruits and after four years' time it can turn irreversible. While the achievement level of youngsters in Hungary, Uruguay or Brazil is improving, India will be losing its edge."

The Hindu - Education Plus - Monday, December 18, 2006