Admissions for intermediate first year, the equivalent of Class 11 in the Telugu states, began in offline mode earlier this week on Sunday, September 19. The online admissions, carried out in two phases earlier in August and September, in an attempt to make the admission process more transparent, stood cancelled as the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordered the AP Board of Intermediate Education (BIE) to conduct in-person admissions for the coming academic year 2021-22. Several private college managements had challenged the decision to hold online admissions in court, arguing that it violated the rights of colleges and students.
This is the second consecutive year that the online admission process was introduced by the BIE and later rescinded due to court orders. Online admissions have been touted as a step towards overall reforms in intermediate education in the state, where corporate colleges are infamous for their exploitative treatment of students and high-pressure teaching environment where students are frequently abused in different ways. The BIE has been attempting to introduce an online admission system where all admissions to private and government junior colleges would be done through the BIEâ€™s website under its scrutiny, suggesting that it would make the admission process more transparent.
The High Court noted that a new system can still be introduced after consulting with stakeholders, stating that the verdict does not prevent the state government from enacting legislation and framing rules for online admissions in the future. Educators and child rights activists say that rather than inconveniencing students and parents by tweaking the admission process, authorities must focus on strengthening governance systems and enforcing rules on private colleges.
Online admissions and other reforms
In the online admission process, students would have to fill in their preferences from the available college options, copies of certificates and documents would be uploaded on the website, and the number of students from each category being admitted to various sections and branches of a college would be centrally monitored by the BIE.
BIE Secretary V Ramakrishna had earlier said in an interview that centralised online admissions would enable students to seek admission in a college of their choice, prevent colleges from withholding studentsâ€™ certificates and denying them permission to leave the college when they wish. It would also help the BIE have more accurate data on colleges, as colleges could manipulate information easily during offline admissions, he had said.
The BIE has also emphasised on implementation of existing reservation norms in intermediate admissions from the previous academic year. BIE Secretary Ramakrishna had noted that reservation was not implemented for many years. As per the rules in force, 15% seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste students, 6% for Scheduled Tribe students, 29% for backward classes, 3% each for physically challenged and ex-servicemen background students and 5% for National Cadet Corps (NCC), sports and extracurricular activities. Also, 33.3% of the total seats are to be reserved for girl students category-wise where there are no separate colleges for them.
Speaking about enforcing reservation rules, Chittoor district Regional Inspection Officer (RIO) for Intermediate V Sreenivasulu Reddy said, â€śWith online admissions, we would be able to allot seats category wise and ensure reservation is implemented. But we have had to resume in-person admissions now, where reservation rules were not being followed.â€ť
Last year, the BIE even issued a government order capping student intake in private junior colleges to 360 students each year, with a maximum of nine sections per campus and a maximum of 40 students in each section. The rule was aimed to achieve a student-teacher ratio of 40:1. As per the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) framework, a student-teacher ratio of 30:1 is recommended in secondary education.
However, the Andhra Pradesh High Court suspended this order based on petitions filed by private college managements. The ceiling has now been fixed at 88 students per section, with a maximum of four sections allowed to operate in a space of 8000 square feet. Starting from this year, the government has also capped tuition fees for the intermediate course under various categories, while also taking coaching classes for competitive entrance exams into consideration. However, private colleges are very often found openly flouting these rules.
Hurdles in regulation
Just before the start of the pandemic, surprise visits to around 260 private schools and junior colleges by officials of the Andhra Pradesh School Education Regulatory and Monitoring Commissionâ€™s (APSERMC) revealed that many institutions lacked sufficient space in buildings, and were being run from apartment-like structures. Classrooms meant to accommodate 35 to 40 students were crammed with 80 to 100 students, authorities noted, while many of them also failed to provide a library, playground and laboratory to students. It was also observed that students were often harshly punished, amid a rote-learning culture that was stressful for students. The Commission said that these issues would be addressed, and steps would be taken towards preventing student suicides.
Educators note that the government must go beyond solutions like online admissions which are likely to trouble students and parents. Without proper support, such processes can end up being exclusionary and discriminatory they say, noting that instead, authorities must focus on strengthening governance systems. After the online admissions were cancelled, the BIE in its admission notice asked college managements to return original certificates to students right after verification. Colleges have been asked to admit students based on Class 10 marks without conducting a separate test, and to provide full security to girl students and to â€śfollow the instructions issued for prevention of suicidal deaths strictly.â€ť
Vitapu Balasubrahmanyam, Teachers MLC (Member of Legislative Council) representing Chittoor, Nellore and Prakasam districts, says that authorities must step up efforts in enforcing rules, rather than making it difficult for rural students and those lacking internet access to seek further education. â€śWhile some argue that some private colleges are resisting reforms like online admissions to continue exploitative practices, it is indeed true that the new system would be difficult for many kids,â€ť he says. As the government has a record of all students enrolled in intermediate courses, authorities must find better ways to monitor the number of students being enrolled, the number of colleges being run by an individual and other details, to be able to affect reforms. â€śThere are issues like most colleges offering only science courses leaving out arts subjects or merging intermediate classes with entrance exam coaching. There needs to be better monitoring of how colleges are run and by whom, details of teachers and their qualifications etc,â€ť he noted. The APSERMC had found last year that many teachers were working in four to five schools or colleges simultaneously due to a shortage of qualified teachers.
Former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Shanta Sinha suggests that the burden of frequently furnishing information and proof of compliance must be placed on private college managements, instead of inconveniencing students. â€śThe solution must lie in rectifying governance systems, ensuring that it is possible to oversee colleges on a regular basis,â€ť she says.
Shaik Sabjee, president of Andhra Pradesh United Teachers' Federation state president, observes that online admissions can certainly give a better overview of the way colleges are operating, allowing officials to oversee the number of students per section or campus etc. However, he notes that corporate colleges often get away with violations due to their political affiliations or other networks, while MLC Balasubrahmanyam notes that fraudulent practices like registering campuses in the names of aides are also prevalent. â€śThere is a need to figure out how to better supervise colleges offline, as the current number and capacity of staff seems insufficient,â€ť Shaik Sabjee says.