Pandemic or no pandemic; classes or no classes, the results of the board exams held for Classes 12 and 10 always seems to get better than the previous years in our sun-kissed southern state. The overall pass percentage of Class 12 has risen to 93.76% this year slightly higher than the 92.3% pass percentage last year. While the Class 10 pass percentage is down by 5% in comparison with the year 2019 when it was last held, it is still at a robust 90.07%. Incidentally, despite schools conducting regular classes only by January or late December, in some cases, during the past academic year, the number of centum scorers in class 12 has increased manifold, that too after two years of successive lockdowns. The solid performance that the board exam results showcase makes one wonder if going back to regular schooling would be a sheer waste of time and resources. Or, have the Classes 10 and 12 board exam results become irrelevant and conducted just for the sake of breaking records year after year.
Admissions begin much before results are out
While the state board class 10 results were announced only on Monday and CBSE class 10 results are yet to be announced, admissions have been completed and classes have commenced for class 11 students in the first week of June in most private schools across the state. The choice of academic streams such as Computer Science, Maths and Biology, Accounting and Commerce etc. were allotted to the students based on their term performance and the recommendation of the subject teachers in most private schools. If you’re shifting schools, an entrance exam is conducted to evaluate candidates’ skills. Parents eager to block a seat for their wards in streams of their choice have already paid the fees and classes have also begun. In this scenario, is there still a need for a board exam for class 10 and does it serve any purpose at all?
The situation is similar for class 12 students too. Most private colleges and universities get hold of students’ contacts and approach parents for admissions of their wards in Engineering, Architecture, Design or other courses much before the class 12 board exams are even conducted and lure them with attractive offers. After the boards are over, many of these colleges conduct their entrance exams and provide provisional admissions to the students, which gets confirmed upon the student formally clearing class 12 boards. Marks have become completely irrelevant at least for engineering admissions in private colleges through the management quota, seats for which are filled in reputed colleges faster than ever. With engineering courses continuing to reign over all other streams, the increase in the number of vacant seats in engineering colleges with every passing year is a vindication of how many students/parents look forward to the class 12 board exams results and the elaborate process of government counselling for admissions.
As far as medical aspirants are concerned, higher secondary students have no reason to focus on class 12 exams as their target is the NEET medical entrance exam and securing qualifying marks is all one needs. For arts and science courses, while university-affiliated colleges still go for the traditional admission procedure, the number of students who get admission purely on a merit basis is just a handful, as any parent who has sought admission for their wards in city colleges would know. By May or June when the Class 12 results arrive during normal academic years, a vast majority of students aspiring for higher education have already secured their seats, paid a token advance and await the formal announcement of the Class 12 results just to get the course completion and transfer certificates.
This is a recent trend. Until about twenty-five years ago, marks obtained by students in Class 10 and class 12 board exams were the only benchmark for admissions in most colleges along with entrance scores for engineering and medical courses. Back then, the craze for top scores in board exams was at its peak and was believed to secure a good future for students who scored well. What has changed over these two and half decades is the entry of private players in higher education, which has now completely changed the game in TN. According to the All-India Council for Technical Education, Tamil Nadu had at least 499 colleges offering undergraduate programs that are recognized by the AICTE for the academic year 2021-22 (numbers for 2022-23 aren’t out yet). This number used to be 572 in the academic year 2014-15 following which several institutions shut down or were not recognised for various reasons, mostly due to the lack of admissions.
The top private colleges among these, be it Engineering or in the Arts and Sciences streams, have a robust public relations mechanism in place with the industry to ensure that their students get preference over those passing out of government institutions in bagging top placements barring a few institutions of repute such as the College of Engineering, Anna University, select departments of the University of Madras etc. With such a well-oiled mechanism in place, a student who scores average marks in class 10 can land a group of his choice for class 12, land a college and course of his or her choice for under-graduation without great scores in class 12 board exams and even land a prime job without ever having to prove his or her academic proficiency in a public exam.
Is the government just wasting money making such elaborate arrangements for such an examination?
School education in most countries across the world, including some of the best in the world like the United States has already migrated to the continuous assessment programs and does not depend on the marks obtained in a single exam to determine the student’s potential. In most countries, admission to colleges, just like at private institutions here, commence much before the completion of the high school programme and students are provided admission based on various parameters tracked over the years. Even here, several streams such as the CBSE and ICSE give more weightage to continuous assessment although they have still retained the Classes 10 and 12 board exams.
The only group of students who would slip out of this emerging trend are the ones studying in government schools and whose parents do not have the affordability or contacts to secure a seat in advance for their wards. Conducting a common board exam does not help such children either as their skills are barely recognised among the thousands who score 90% and above on boards. Instead, the government could delegate the responsibility to the schools to honestly evaluate their wards and provide school-leaving grades fit for college admissions. With the responsibility lying solely on the schools and perhaps, school district heads, the reputation of the school would directly depend on the students sent to good institutions and make them accountable.
The government could instead put to use the huge amount of money spent on board exams to improve infrastructure and manpower in government schools to identify weak/deviant students and help them get to mainstream higher education institutions. Such an effort could truly improve the overall pass percentage of students in the state although there might not be any common results database to showcase their achievements.