The Admissions Conundrum

7 Feb

The admissions conundrum

Meeta Sengupta
21 January 2014, 11:02 AM IST

In a perfect world there would be enough quality nursery and university places for everyone to be able to get admission into a school of their choice. In that perfect world there would be enough room for students to change their mind and shift across schools with no stress if they felt the need to do so. We do not inhabit this world yet. In our world we have to compete, if that word that can still apply, for university seats. And we often have to settle for second best when we start our education journey.

 

Delhi has been struggling with both these issues in the past week. The recent decisions and the counter cases only bring the debate to the forefront. There are no easy answers in either case but it does seem clear that few are pleased with the current solutions that are being proposed as admissions policy. Admissions policies need to be balanced and evenly designed to ensure fair access to all. In education, as in jobs, this has been traditionally seen as best served by valuing meritocracy. So high achievers get admission to the school of their first choice and the others maybe move on to their second or third choice. Achievements in academics and sports have been recognised as valuable to universities – other achievements are probably not of academic value. Of course, mere achievements are not enough – other criteria are designed to create equitable access – and these include affirmative action quotas too.

 

Selection on merit seems to be the fairest way to enroll students till one realises the trauma of three year olds made to perform for a high stakes test that lasts a few minutes and can decide their future. Mere marks too seem inadequate for selection in universities where the objective is mainly gainful employment. On the other end of the spectrum lies a pure lottery based selection system. This may be equitable but can hardly be called fair. For starters it is unfair to those who work harder, or to those who need the seat more. This system displeases both the supporters of meritocracy and the supporters of affirmative action. Seeking the perfect admissions policy is probably like the hunt for a mirage – it seems attractive in the distance but may never be reached. This will remain a journey. In an attempt to get this right many systems have developed complex formulae to identify the right candidates.

 

The Delhi nursery admissions criteria seems to be a case in point where private schools now do not have the right to select their own students and the admissions are supposed to be on the basis of standardised criteria. Schools have protested this ruling even filing a case in court which delays admissions this year. The situation is fraught, like each year, with poor capacity creating a skewed demand for the few good schools. Some of the criteria seem to be similar to those adopted across the world – for example – the distance from school. Yes of course little children get tired going to school, but that is a tradeoff for parents to make, not for schools to decide. Schools may intervene if students seem over tired in classes, but till there is proof that children suffer from commuting (and Delhi’s school buses are an established system) why should this affect choice? Why should student mobility be restricted? If they are a better fit in a school that is some distance away then why deny them this facility? Looking beyond traditional subjects – suppose a school has a great cricket coach, or a great dance tradition – so much so that they are able to help their students build careers out of it. Should talented students be restricted to a local school that does not understand or foster their abilities?

 

The other issue in admissions that has always evoked strong opinions is that of affirmative action. About half the seats in Central Universities and a quarter of the seats in (many) private schools are now allocated by quotas. While there may be a justifiable case for affirmative action, there may also be a case to assess the success of these policies. If they have been less than successful in raising their target groups out of poverty, then maybe the criteria or the process need to be revisited.

 

There is no denying the government its role in some social engineering, and therefore there is no denying some hard trade offs. The way out of these trade-offs is not to create more restrictive policies for admissions but to increase quality capacity. Invest in building good intellectual capacity and allow it to attract funds. The time for mere gate keeping is past if one acknowleges the need to go beyond the zero sum game in education.

Link:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/the-admissions-conundrum

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