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CUET will End Level Playing Field for Government School Students, Aspirants Fear

Ravi Kaushal |
Students' organisations have maintained that the test would lead to the proliferation of the coaching industry across the country, which would charge an exorbitant fee from aspirants and further narrow the stream for admissions of poor students in public universities.

Delhi: For Bharati, the biggest reason to seek education is not to get a high-paying job in an MNC or become a civil servant. She just wanted to read bus numbers to reach her destination. A student of Class XII in Government Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in Rohini Sector-16, Bharati came along with other students to protest at the Arts Faculty of Delhi University to oppose the brazen implementation of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) without increasing the number of seats in the central universities.

The students' organisations have maintained that the test would lead to the proliferation of the coaching industry across the country, which would charge an exorbitant fee from aspirants and further narrow the stream for admissions of poor students in public universities.

Sharing her story, Bharati said that she was afraid if she would get admission to any of the colleges of Delhi University to pursue higher education. She said, "The inspiration for getting educated came from the experience of my parents who would ask other persons about the bus numbers and their destinations. They are illiterate. My mother promised me that I would not live this humiliation. She has put all efforts into getting us educated, and we fared well in our studies, but how would we afford expensive coaching now? Neither we have the money nor anybody at home who could guide us about the ways to self-study the materials to crack the test."

Most of the protesters are first-generation learners who will be passing the class XII examinations next year. Aditi, another student from the same school, told NewsClick that she wanted to bear the expenses of her higher education herself, but expensive coaching fees remain the biggest hurdle to cross for now.

She said, "My parents live in a village in Uttar Pradesh. They kept me away from them at my aunt's place because they could not afford my studies. Once I complete my education, I want to be independent and support my siblings' education. My parents put me with my aunt because poverty did not allow them to support my upbringing, but this would not happen with my brother and sister."

Mohd Reza, who came from Government Sarvodaya School in GTB Nagar, said that the test created an unequal playing field between private school students and students from government schools. He said that the learning in the previous two years during the pandemic suffered immensely. In this background, it is unfair to expect government school students to outsmart rich and resourceful students. There must be some deprivation points for them too.

Talking to NewsClick on the sidelines of the protest, he said," we did not have smartphones or separate rooms with plenty of books to attend online classes. I worked with a lawyer as his assistant in managing files to support my family. My mom, who worked as a tailor, did not earn enough to run the family. During a pandemic, most of the boys picked up some kind of part-time job to support their families. We have no issues in appearing for the test, but how do you expect that we can compete with the rich students and qualify for it. Thus, we are demanding that there should be some deprivation points for students from poorer families too."

Harshit, a student who came from Government Sarvodaya School Lancer Road, said that the students are eager to enrol in regular colleges because the hollowness of distant learning courses stands exposed with literally no classes and availability of study materials at the end of semesters. He said, "The classes are conducted on Sundays. When you appear for them, you find that they are already full. The study material is made available weeks before examinations. So, it's a double blow for poor students because we cannot get admissions in public or private universities."

The complaints of students get a clear reflection in fee structures of leading coaching centres who would charge between Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 for online and offline crash courses. Schools have already expressed concerns about less focus of students on studies in class XI and Class XII.

Harish Gautam from Krantikari Yuva Sangathan, who, along with his friends, mobilised school students for protest, told NewsClick that CUET does not change the discrimination of universities that banked on cut-off systems to admit students till the previous year. Talking to NewsClick, he said that the universities had skipped their responsibility towards poor students by not maintaining any data or profile of the students getting admissions.

He said,"We enquired about the data through right to information applications, and we found that neither university nor colleges maintained any data about its students if they came from private schools or government schools. When we got similar replies, it was clear that they did not maintain any data only to skip their responsibility towards poor students. Once it becomes clear that Delhi University has hardly any students from government schools, they will have to find some solution for it."

Bhim Kumar, another activist from KYS, said that thousands of students from across the country apply for admission into various courses and departments of the University of Delhi. The cutoff system favoured the students from privileged backgrounds.

"The meritocratic beliefs continue to influence new admission policy through CUET, wherein students from private schools, having been better educated due to better infrastructure and facilities, shall perform way better compared to the students from government schools. This skewed admission policy of entrance exams at the public-funded university accords privileges to students from well-off backgrounds,” Kumar said.

He added, “The fact that the DU ignores the huge gap between the number of applicants and the final number of students who get admission into the university is blatant proof of the meritocratic ideals upon which the CUET exams are based. It is indeed ironic that those who study in government schools till class 12 are the ones excluded from premier government-funded higher education institutions.”

He continued that the students from government schools who may get admissions are from Kendriya Vidyalaya/Pratibha Vidyalaya/Schools of Excellence which are indeed reserved for central and state government employees. This segregation is hurting students more. It gets more clear in the All India Survey of Higher Education Report 2019-20, where the gross enrolment ratio among SC and ST populations is way lesser than the national GER.

Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher education in India is 27.1, which is calculated for the 18-23 years of age group. GER for the male population is 26.9, and for females, it is 27.3. For Scheduled Castes, it is 23.4, and for Scheduled Tribes, it is 18.0 as compared to the national GER of 27.1.

Similarly, when we look at the data on the number of SC and ST Students enrolled in Indira Gandhi National Open University, which is the biggest distance learning university in the country, the results are mind-boggling. During the 2010-19 period, the number of SC and ST students grew to 247% and 171.8%. So, the most urgent thing that universities can do is to increase the seats by allowing evening shifts in morning shift colleges, create further infrastructure and give some deprivation points to poor students for a level playing field.

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