Uniformity of mediocrity: In the name of socialism


How often have you heard the idiom–If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed. Well’s that’s the state of communist education policy in the "red" state of West Bengal–the last bastion of so-called "communists" in India.  The latest victim of the policy–the renowned Presidency College, Kolkata–almamater to some of the most illustrious sons and daughters of Bengal, including the nobel laureate Amartya Sen. For years, Presidency had a very clear and transparent admission policy. It gave equal weightage to a two step procedure– the results of an admission test it would undertake and the scores of the school leaving exams. In my humble opinion, it was next best thing to an ideal admission process. However the communist government is now planning to scrape the admission test. Since Presidency is a government college and not an autonomous one, such a change in policy cannot be taken by the college authorities without the blessings of the government.  Please read more on the recent change:


Why am I so favourable to the existing admission process and the inclusion of an admission tests. Because I think the admission test helps to make the system fairer.
The school leaving exams in India are a big mess. One, each state has its own school board or may be two. West Bengal has the Higher Education council and also the High Madrassa system. Moreover many students in the state study in schools which belong to two national level school boards–the CBSE and the ICSE. Each board has its own curriculum, syllabi, methodology and the school leaving exams are as different as chalk and cheese. So, a student scoring 80% marks in the CBSE board may not have the same merit as one scoring 80% marks in West Bengal board. They may not have even studied the same thing. But that’s only one part of the problem. The second problem is the non-transparent evaluation system. There is a long history of question paper leaks and unfair evaluations. A few student organizations have been asking for photocopies of evalutated answer scripts to be returned to the students–but the government has steadily refused. The rationale for that decision is incomprehensible–given the fact that distribution of photocopies of evaluated marksheets can also lead to an extra source of revenue for the government while attempting to reassure that student that his test papers have been evaluated fairly. However, that’s a seperate discussion. The moot point is that the evaluation system of the board school is highly unfair and close to a point where it can be termed "spurious".  There is also allegation of unfair corrupt politicization of the process–kins of politically connected people "fare better" and critics argue that the government wants to showcase its rural development agenda by  manipulating the school leaving exam results to showcase that the students from the rural schools fare better while it is common knowledge that the schools in the large cities have better infrastructure, better paid teachers and students coming from more affluent family backgrounds who can invest in private tutoring and other academic aid.

In this backdrop the Presidency college admission process was a much fairer system. First, it did not ignore the school board exams. 50% weightage was given to the marks obtained in the school leaving exam scores, and the other 50% was given to the admission test conducted by the college.  There was a well-defined statistical method employed to homogenize the scores across school boards. That statistic was formulated by experts. Next, the admission test conducted by the college was of much higher standard than the school leaving exams, and the evaluation system was done in a "double-blind" methodology–where the evaluator would not know the identity or the background of the student. Only an "insider job" could rig the test scores and the chances of that happening was very slim. There were no personal interviews–so the student was not judged on any extraneous factors like communication, appearance etc. And moreover the college continued to provide reservations to the underprivileged sections of the society as per existing norms–so all in all it was a fair system. A student who could have been unfairly victimized in the school leaving exams could still make it to the college by faring better in the admission test–while somebody who had a one-off "bad day" on the test day, could still get through if his/her school leaving scores were better than others.

It needs to be brought into attention that majority of the renowned institutions of higher learning in India –like the IITs, the state Engineering colleges, the IIMs, IISC, JNU , the Medical colleges have their own admission test. They give very little weightage to school leaving tests or college level tests. And it is common knowledge that these institutions sieve off the best students through these tests–and that’s a necessary ingriedient in the recipe for their success although not the only one.

Presidency college has a long history of being an superlative institution till the "Marxist" government took over. The government policy towards Presidency was always fallacious–it wanted to standardize the educational quality across college–which is good in theory–but terrible when you do it the other way round. So, rather than trying to alleviate the low standards of other colleges, the Marxists attempted to bring down the standard of Presidency–following the uniquitous logic of uniformity of mediocrity that happens in Bengal. First, they prevented autonomy of the college and have successfully resisted it till date. Second, they flsuhed out a majority of good teachers out of the college citing a mandatory "rotational policy" –where teachers have to serve in colleges in rural Bengal periodically. All these sound good in theory, but what happened in practise is quite otherwise. A good number of teachers quit Presidency and joined other instutions where they will have a more stable job. Second, many bright young teachers found Presidency unattractive because of this government policy. In short, Presidency lost the great teachers. The current corrupt system of rotation often rewards party loyalists with a "Presidency posting" and it is no longer academic merit or integrity which counts alone to get a lecturership in Presidency.

When the teachers are gone–can students be far behind? During the 1990s and in the current decade many brilliant students favoured other professional courses over a Presidency education –because such a education did not make one employable.The outdated syllabus tied to a monolith called University of Calcutta, which rarely attempts to modernize itself , did not provide much skills to the students to compete in the global arena. Still, Presidency got a significant amount of good students owing to its prestige and fairness in admission process. It is one of the few places remaining in the state where free-thinking is advocated and an anti-establishment spirit dominates student politics.

But Presidency is still not uniform with the other colleges. So the latest attack on its admission process is just another attempt to bring it to the level of others. And not surprisingly the only ones clapping are the party supporters and teachers affiliated to the ruling party’s teachers association. That serves their purpose fine.

What you cannot create a :"Presidency:" out of "Surendranath", bring "Presidency" down to the level of "Surendranath". That remains the Marxist policy in Bengal, as always!!!

I rest my argument (with due respect to students, teachers and alumni of Surendranath)…






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