By Daisy Mowke

Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

It’s that time of the year again when candidates passing their board examinations seek admission in the country’s vast multitude of institutions and step forward towards a new lease of life. As the institutions go abuzz with the admission procedures, the University of Delhi, the country’s premiere institution for higher studies, is all set to welcome a fresh assemblage of aspiring students.

Delhi University was scheduled to open its admission procedure from 2nd June and needless to say, a large number of fresh applicants swarmed the registration centres, and thousands of applications have been submitted online. In the frenzy of the admission procedure, what matters the most, and often acts as a deciding factor of a candidate’s admission, is the lower limit set by institutions on the percentage required for admission, better known as the ‘cut-off’. The top colleges advertently settle for higher cut-offs, keeping with the ‘demand’ for these institutions. So, the obvious consequence is that applicants who are not able to meet the cut-off lose their chance of getting admitted to the desired college.

The question that needs to be posed at this stage is—are marks a true reflection of a person’s calibre and intelligence? Are they a proper indication of the student’s potential? Is the intelligence of a person limited to a few percentages? The ‘top’ colleges under Delhi University are known for their exorbitant cut-offs, and students who clear these cut-offs get through for admission. But what about the other half of students who do not? Unmentionably, they have to ‘compromise’ on their choice of college owing to a few marks which they did not manage to obtain in their board examinations, and their peers did. This is not to deny the amount of hard work put in by students who score ninety-five plus percentages. Marks, in most cases, do reflect a student’s hard work; at other times, they might just be a matter of sheer luck!

St. Stephen’s College, one of Delhi University’s top-notch colleges, often considered a ‘world-class institution’ by students is known for its soaring cut-offs and admission to the college is dearly coveted. Its students are envisaged as comprising a ‘pool of intelligentsia’. A similar story follows for other top colleges like Hindu College, Sri Ram College of Commerce, Lady Sri Ram College, et al. However, the sword of cut-offs hangs over the neck of aspiring students and a failure to do so would mean losing out on opportunity. Nevertheless, this does not, in any case, mean that students who are not a part of these ‘prestigious’ institutions are inferior or less intelligent than the ones who made the cut. A non-association of their names with the biggies of the academic world is in no way a badge of less or poor intelligence. A student scoring lesser marks and not making it to the cut-off score may be just as or even more knowledgeable than a person with higher marks.

Knowledge and intelligence are quantum times more vast and diverse and cannot be constrained by or limited to something as rigid and arbitrary as marks. It cannot be the lone criterion of judging someone’s intelligence and aptitude. Also, it cannot be the basis of comparison between two persons. One person might be comfortable with 5-6 hours of study per day to obtain certain marks, while another might require much longer hours to cover the same syllabi and gain the same marks. Along with intelligence, marks might also be a matter of the amount of time spent studying and mugging things up, or sometimes, as mentioned, a matter of one’s luck.

The country has different boards for conducting the Higher Secondary Examination, which includes several state education boards. The number of subjects, types of examination (theoretical, practical or both) and grading methods differ among the boards and states. Considering this, would it be wise to compare the marks of students across different boards? It is not pliable to set up a uniform basis of admission for all students, considering that they pass out from different boards having different marking patterns, and that the attitude of teachers evaluating the papers is subjective.

But one must strive to live in reality. With the number of students scoring ninety-five plus percentages escalating year after year (thanks to the increasing generosity of the boards and teachers), colleges have little option but to set mind-boggling cut-offs owing to the limited number of seats. However, rather than only taking for granted the face value of the board’s percentage, colleges can add undemanding yet testing entrance examinations to further evaluate the student’s calibre in his chosen subject. The entire evaluation could be wrapped up with a personal interview, in which non-academic aspects such as value system, potential to contribute to the society, and the like are assessed. This would give further legitimacy to the admission procedure. A definite weightage could be set for the board’s percentage in order to maintain its magnitude and not let the entrance tests become the only important affair. Surely, the process would be tedious. But the very purpose of it would defeat the tedium of the procedure.

Even so, following such a procedure would result in things boiling down to marks once again, that is, marks in the entrance test deciding one’s fate. Viewed from the perspective of testing one’s bona fide knowledge of the desired subject of study, this may sound very feasible. But doesn’t it bring things to the same level where marks become the primary basis of judging students?

It’s true that marks cannot be the sole judging basis of intelligence. But in the absence of any other defining criterion, they become the deciding factor when it comes to admissions. It is seemingly impossible to do away with the system of cut-offs, and entrance tests would mean additional stress as well as a re-emphasis on marks. Personal interviews could be made mandatory, but even then the judgement would be on a subjective basis. So what could be a solution for the long term?

With multiple boards functioning in the country, and each board having its distinct subject pattern and grading system, there seems to be an uneven playing field for the candidates. Instead of having so many different boards, a larger and well-conceived role can be given to boards that are successfully running institutions throughout the entire country. A uniform syllabi and marking system could be developed in order to ensure a level playing field. More emphasis should be laid upon making the subjects creative instead of making students resort to mugging up. The grading system of the boards needs to be revamped, as an inflation in marks inevitably leads to higher cut-offs. A newspaper report tells us that the number of Class 12 CBSE students across India scoring more than 95% had gone up by about 2,800 in 2013 over the previous year’s figure. The 95% club has been ballooning for the past four years, bringing cheer to more parents and students in the short term. But the larger picture becomes clear as cut-offs are announced. With the 95% club growing every year, there is no way cut-offs won’t go up. Instead of blaming colleges for setting high cut-offs, boards should be advised not to give such inflated marks. If the marking scale is lowered, even a 90% would be a matter of jubilation and cut-offs would come down significantly. This would give momentum to a healthy and creative learning process, and students would not be constrained to join the battle for marks alone. Yes, we do need cut-offs; what we do not need is a 99.5% cut-off.

Daisy has always been a quiet person, with the habit of penning down thoughts rather than speaking them aloud. This habit culminated in her interest towards poetry, and finally led to the publication of her first book of poems, titled ‘Midnight Calling’. After joining St. Stephen’s College there has been no looking back. Currently pursuing English Honours, Daisy aims to pursue her career in the field of teaching. She also dreams of joining Oxford someday.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind