The National Education Policy (NEP), 2016-17, which is in the making, gives India an opportunity to improve the quality of its education. Often, there is a confusion among students and their families while choosing a career path as there is no cumulative record of a student’s progress. The NEP must address this need for student records. Many parents believe that with proper coaching, their wards will get into good professional colleges, graduate and move on to a job or seek entry for higher education. However, this path has not yet yielded the intended results.
The quality of professional courses and general degree programs have deteriorated significantly over the years. The over-supply of poor quality institutions has brought down the entry criteria and worsened the status of graduate employability. Revising the entry criteria for higher education is imperative to improve the quality of school education. It is vital to foresee the connection between secondary school and higher education/training sector. This gives scope for progressive policy development.
An overwhelming dependence on Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) in college entrance exams has resulted in rote learning in schools. It is essential to include Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) questions and open-ended questions. As long as the students admitted into colleges are weak in fundamentals, it is impossible to address employability issues.
It is important that we recognise the strong linkage between thinking and writing skills. This linkage is an essential lever for producing significant intellectual property. In the 2017 International IP index, India has secured the third place—from the bottom. This is a reflection of the lack of commitment to writing and reasoning skills first at schools and then at colleges. Not considering these skills as a criteria for entry into colleges has dented innovation.
The current pass percentage /Expected Level of Learning (ELL) of many school boards is 35 per cent. This should be revised, as this was a standard set by the British more than 70 years ago. On questioning the people who took board exams in the 1950s, I found to my dismay that it was 35 per cent even at that time! However, no record was found on the Committee that framed the policy or on who signed this decision. The so- called politically unpopular proposition of increasing the ELL enjoys the support of parents, especially the teachers of school and colleges.
Today, globalisation, digitisation, automation, migration, etc are the forces impacting higher education and workplace. Everyday, papers report some innovation that will erase monotonous jobs. Against this backdrop, there is no choice but to revisit the minimum pass marks of 35 and look towards a major upward revision.
In most countries, students with below 50 marks do not gain access to professional and technical education. Admitting students with 35 per cent marks into medical, engineering or other professional colleges is an antithesis to quality higher education and employability. Often, these students graduate with the grace and mercy of their professors.
Students scoring below 50 per cent in Class X and Class XII may fail to clear the first year in college. Students who depend excessively on coaching rely on rote learning to get admission into professional and other courses. These students have low levels of thinking skills, poor communication and writing skills. So they struggle to cope up with the demands of higher education and therefore struggle at the workplace.
It is unfair and impractical to admit students who have scored low marks into higher education programs and expect them to a achieve minimum of 50 per cent for receiving degrees. Such students will not be able to cope up with interactions, perform their part in group projects, etc. This will lead to frustration, students dropping out and even committing suicide. Even if these students graduate languishing at the bottom of the class, finding a job becomes a huge challenge.
The need of the hour is to increase the ELL to 50 per cent and improve the rigor of teaching, learning and testing. This can be achieved through policy measures keeping a specific time frame for implementation. For example, if a state board has a cut off of 35 per cent, that state would require a span of at least three to five academic cycles to incrementally increase ELL to 50 per cent, without much stress on the stakeholders.
The best examples for this are the IITs and IIMs, where the student feeder quality is superior and so is the employability. This enables students to cope with the rigor of the IIT courses. However, even there, most of the students who drop out, struggle, suffer depression or commit suicides come from the lower bandwidth of eligibility criteria.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Quality Council of India (QCI), Productivity Council of India (PCI), MHRD, MSDE, Commerce Ministry and NITI Aayog need to collaborate and coordinate quality issues in education as it directly impacts economic development. Globally, minimum standard for professional and technical courses entry is at 60 per cent. Admitting students with below 60 per cent will lead to a squander of the resources. At secondary school level, 50 per cent can be introduced initially as a voluntary standard to build the momentum towards quality.
To meet the 50 per cent cap for graduation from higher professional and technical education courses, secondary school students feeder today needs to have a minimum of 75-85 per cent entry eligibility bandwidth. Since most school boards inflate marks, this higher percentage is required in the current context. The general university/college degree courses entry eligibility criteria has to have a minimum of 50 per cent or Grade C. The higher education edifice is as good as its feeder; this is a harsh reality check.
K Renuka Raju
CMD, Kovida Ltd and Correspondent, Lotus National Schools