Obscene system of advertising intermediate ranks barred in Andhra, but it's not enough

The teacher-student relationship has become corrupt as a result of the commercialisation, with teachers becoming salespersons for the schools, and students and parents seen merely as consumers.
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Results of intermediate exams, equivalent to class 11 and 12 in the Telugu states, were released in Andhra Pradesh on Friday. Every year, soon after the results are announced, regional radio stations and TV channels start to run advertisements from private colleges, blaring the state-level ranks obtained by students of each college, along with their marks or grades. The advertising continues throughout the admission season, in the form of ads in the newspaper, on buses, billboards, pamphlets etc., urging parents to admit their children to these colleges, mainly run as a chain of institutions by groups like Sri Chaitanya and Narayana across the Telugu states. This continues when results for entrance exams like IIT JEE and NEET are announced too.

This year, the Andhra Pradesh government has banned such publicity of intermediate marks as well as district and state-level ranks. Authorities have decided to prohibit colleges from running advertisements or displaying students’ photos while publicising their ranks or marks, and have warned that action will be taken against those who do so. 

The decision was announced by the Board of Intermediate Education (BIE) in Andhra Pradesh back in January. At the time, BIE Commissioner V Ramakrishna had declared that the board had decided to revert to the system of rewarding marks instead of a Grade Point Average (GPA). While the grading system was started to “check the unhealthy competition created by corporate colleges,” parents and students had reportedly complained of facing problems in admissions to colleges outside the state. With this, the BIE instead decided to ban the advertising while returning to the old marks system. 

Several education and child rights activists have commended the ban as a necessary move towards curbing the uncontrolled commercialisation of school education, especially higher secondary school education in the Telugu states. However, they insist that such superficial moves must also be accompanied by systemic changes to school education in Andhra and Telangana. 

Commercialisation of education 

Shanta Sinha, former chairperson of NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights), says that the ban on ads “sends a strong message that the market can’t interfere in education policy.” 

The public announcement of marks has the effect of making students feel like their fate is sealed, she says, denying them an opportunity to grow.

Calling the cacophonous, pervasive advertising of students’ ranks a fallout of excessive commercialisation, education activist Prof Haragopal says the ban is a welcome move. “It’s mostly private institutions which keep on talking about ranks and marks and toppers to attract parents and students. It’s a profiteering exercise,” he says. 

Child rights activist Venkateshwara Rao echoes this thought. He says the marks system has lost its integrity, being used by private schools and colleges as a way of “rating students”, in order to “allure parents.” He points out that most parents who send their children to private schools end up spending more than half their income on school and intermediate fees. 

“These schools and colleges have started to send marks to parents by Whatsapp on a regular basis, to satisfy parents and mislead them. There is no opportunity left for the parents to think that the system may not be right for their kinds. Even if the child is not learning anything meaningful, there is an illusion that he or she is doing well,” he says. 

Haragopal says that the teacher-student relationship has become corrupt as a result of the commercialisation, with teachers becoming salespersons for the schools, and students and parents seen merely as consumers. Incidentally, several school teachers working for ‘corporate schools’ in Andhra Pradesh have complained of being asked to secure new admissions in order to receive their salaries and keep their jobs

Vested interests in private education 

The activists point out that the private colleges have continued to dominate the higher secondary education system, because of the political influence of those involved. Of the two most prominent corporate institutions running intermediate colleges in the state, Narayana group is owned by Ponguru Narayana, former Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister in Andhra during the TDP’s term. Similarly, Sri Chaitanya was founded by BS Rao, who is also known to be influential in the Telugu states. 

“This system has continued because of the powerful lobby. They have now become so influential that those in the government practically think that it’s the private institutions that belong to them, and not the public ones,” Haragopal says. 

With many political leaders having made investments in private educational institutions, from schools to colleges to higher educational institutions, Venkateshwara Rao says there are vested interests in upholding the commercial nature of private intermediate colleges.  

Addressing higher secondary education models 

Venkateshwara Rao also points out that these private school systems have been designed in a way that only discourages students’ creativity and curiosity, and prepares them for clerical software jobs. 

While Haragopal calls for a more robust public education system, Shantha Sinha says that the policy of secondary school education itself needs an overhaul. “There is a need for more innovation. We could look into combining classes 9, 10, 11 and 12 as one unit, and do away with class 10 boards. Unless they make systemic reforms to reduce pressure on children, the market will continue to decide what kind of an education our children receive,”  she says. 

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