Akshaya from Kasaragod district completed class 10 by securing an A+ grade in all her subjects. But she was sad that she did not get an admission for plus one in the school she wanted. "I wanted to go to this particular school, but I was offered only a stream that I am not interested in. The Biology stream was allotted to me in another school," she says. A government school teacher from Thiruvananthapuram district meanwhile shares a conversation she had with one of her best students. â€śShe worked hard and got good marks. The other day, she called in grief saying she did not get into the stream she wanted,â€ť the teacher says.
This is the situation in many regions of Kerala, where students havenâ€™t received admission in subjects or in the school they preferred, despite scoring high grades. And thatâ€™s because this year, in the secondary school leaving certificate (SSLC) examination, over 1.2 lakh students scored A+ in all subjects. The total pass percentage this year was a record 99.47%. In 2020, the number of students who secured A+ in all subjects was 41,906, and in 2019, the number stood at 34,313.
"This time the examination paper evaluation was lax. They have given away marks just like that. Apart from that, many schools have compromised while conducting exams. There were malpractices. Many average students have secured a full A+ this time," a government school teacher from Kannur district alleges. Another teacher from Thiruvananthapuram echoes the same sentiment, and says students who worked hard were denied justice. "We are happy about everyone getting good marks. But that doesn't mean that students who worked hard and studied well should be denied justice. We have foreseen this situation after everyone got good marks,â€ť she says. "This gives students a message that there is no value for hard work," she adds.
But while teachers and students lament about merit and examination scores, some education activists point out that the scenario this year illustrates exactly whatâ€™s wrong with depending on marks and â€śmeritâ€ť for admissions as a whole.
The plus one admissions are through a single window system and students get allotted to schools based on the marks they scored. Kerala Pradesh school teachersâ€™ association senior vice-president tells TNM that the number of A+ grades is too high this time which has caused a difficult situation. "Nenmara Girls School, where I teach, has 130 students who got a full A+. But the biology science batch has only 60 seats, so other students will be allotted to other schools that they may not prefer. In the Malabar region (North Kerala) the pass percentage is much higher than the number of seats," he says.
He adds that in many schools, the condition is similar, and that the number of students who secured full A+ outnumbers the allotted seats.
Abraham K, a retired school teacher and social worker from Kannur however says, "Why should we be so stringent in the number of 11th and 12th standard seats? Even if a student is just passing his or her examinations, and wishes to study by taking up a science group, they should have the opportunity. There should be enough opportunity at school level, after that to let them choose their path. As of now students with good grades get into the science group and others go to the humanities group. That system itself should change. Merit shouldn't always be based on marks they score in examinations.â€ť
"Kids shouldn't feel that their opportunities are snatched away by their friends. So here is the problem with the system," he adds.
Another retired high school teacher, John C from Kasaragod, says, "Children come from different backgrounds. Even in school, there are students who are not able to study properly due to their situations at home. So think about them sitting at home and studying. COVID-19 is a genuine excuse for many of them. Considering that we should give them opportunities," he adds.
Anoop from Kannur who secured around 75% in his SSLC exams says that he has started private tuitions. "Not only me, many others who have secured even more than 80% did not get admissions in the group they wanted. So many have started private tuitions," he says.
Kerala education minister V Sivankutty has announced that the number of Plus One seats in Malabar region will be increased by 10%.