What killed Anitha?

EA RAMASWAMY | Updated on January 10, 2018

Unequal race: To reach the top   -  C Venkatachalapathy


Tamil Nadu’s education system with its emphasis on rote learning, aided by false promises from politicians

It is a tragedy of enormous proportions. Seventeen-year-old Anitha ended her life because she could not make it to a medical college. This was a tragedy waiting to happen, caused by the education system in Tamil Nadu that is playing with the lives of young boys and girls.

But no one is blaming the real culprit. The Opposition is blaming the Government, the State is blaming the Centre, the girl’s friends and relatives are blaming the Supreme Court, and the chief minister offers cash and a job for a family member as if that will solve anything.

With 98 per cent in the twelfth standard, this young girl would have easily got into a medical college had it not been for changes in the politics of the State. Tamil Nadu has been surviving for years outside the National Entrance and Eligibility Test (NEET) that governs admission to medical colleges in the country.

The argument is that NEET works against poor students from rural backgrounds; they cannot afford the specialised training needed to crack the test. In the absence of NEET, twelfth standard marks became the sole criterion for admission. This had to end sometime, and it ended when the State’s political clout in Delhi evaporated with the passing away of Jayalalithaa. It was not as if this change was unanticipated. Many students from the State who had placed their bets on NEET indeed went to court against twelfth marks being brought back as the criterion.

Wrong move

Anitha’s mistake was to have betted on the wrong horse. She expected the State government to have its way yet again. She was in touch with politicians and political parties, and they probably assured her that Tamil Nadu would have its way.

This was not to be. As the central government played ducks and drakes, it was left to the Supreme Court to give a ruling. Anitha was not the one to give up so easily. She impleaded herself in the case, but the decision went against her. She obviously had the spunk to go this far, but equally obviously she had powerful backing. The forces that backed her had given her false hope, and they must eventually own up the responsibility for the death of this gutsy girl.

The truly shocking part of the tragedy is that this young girl got a piffling 12 per cent in NEET. If you have the interest of students at heart, you must crack this puzzle. How can there be so much variation? Why would anyone who is so obviously bright do so badly? What has gone wrong and where does the problem lie? The truth is the problem lies squarely with the state of school education in Tamil Nadu. The standard procedure here is for students to mug up questions and answers without understanding a word. It is the worst form of rote. This is what the system demands, and this is what students deliver to get full marks. The examination is a test not of knowledge or understanding but of memory. Anitha herself confessed that she could not comprehend the NEET — the questions were obviously outside rote.

Big money

Rote is only the tip of the iceberg. The school system is in the hands of big money, supported from behind by big politics. Parents want English medium which only private schools offer. Education is prohibitively expensive. Parents are willing to pay but want marks in return. Schools deliver by adopting dubious means. Teachers are poorly paid and even more poorly equipped.

The way forward consists in reforming the school system, not in protecting it.

Sadly, however, Tamil Nadu has responded to this tragedy by getting back to its familiar identity politics. There is much finger-pointing but no one is pointing to the rote that is killing our children. The villain is always someone else. Politicians are vying with one another to argue that Tamil Nadu must be allowed to decide on its method of assessing merit for admission to professional courses. They are in effect arguing for the continuation of rote. They are busy scoring political points that have nothing to do with children, their education or their future.

Are our children so dumb that they must be protected forever from the winds that sweep the world?

The writer is a labour relations and HR consultant

Published on September 04, 2017

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