College admission season is upon us. Oh joy.
School was the best time of my life; I was a child, girls were a mystery to me, and I didn’t have a job. It was much better than life at 30, where I’m a child, girls are still a mystery, and I don’t have a job. There are many things I miss about school days, like 90s fuel prices and dollar exchange rates. There are two things I do not (and will never) miss -- board exams and the admission process.
The Indian education system is based on one simple principle; nobody gets admission to anything. And enforcing this principle are a set of boards (Exams), interviews (Spoken Exams) and entrance tests (“Summer Vacations? What are you, a commerce student?” Exams) The rigors of our system have often been lauded for creating a workforce that is competitive, disciplined, and has the work ethic of a Spartan in a Zack Snyder movie. What this praise ignores is that much like the Spartans, this workforce only represents the people that survived being thrown to the wolves as children.
Our system chews up more kids than it spits out. It’s a reductive mess, boiling 12 years of learning memorising down to one set of exams that will decide whether you get into a good college, or written out of your parents’ will. Memorising information isn’t always a bad thing.
The answers to some questions never change, like “What is the capital of Arunachal Pradesh?” (Answer: Batman), but I came from a system where even math problems in exams used the same numbers the textbooks did. Even if you didn’t remember how to solve it, you probably remembered the answer anyway, so you could write it out at the bottom, and then work backwards on the proof until you reached the original question. It was CSI: SSC, and we never lost a case.
And we had to memorise our asses off, because we needed impossible scores to make college cut-offs. And I needed a good score because I’m not Sindhi, or a sportsperson, or from a disadvantaged caste, or female, or the “grandchild of a freedom fighter”, even though I’m pretty sure there was never a point where my grandparents went “AWRITE! QUEEN AND CRUMPETS 4LYF! YEAH!” There were exactly 12 seats in Mumbai available to me, and this is after my scores were good enough to be featured in a (true story) “CONGRATULATIONS STUDENTS WHO WILL ONE DAY DIE ALONE” ad that coaching classes put out. And I was beaten to 11 of those seats by friends who had something called “infloons”, which is code for “OMG the college suddenly has funds to paint the teachers’ lounge!”
And now cut-offs just got more impossible, with one college in Delhi University only accepting people with 100 per cent marks, one capital letter, one special character and six years military experience. I hear their first three students are named Google, Jesus, and Arnab Goswami. The biggest problem with a 100 per cent cut-off is that even if I had that sort of score, could there be anything more boring than a classroom full of 100 percenters? This is what every conversation would sound like:
Me: Guys! Let’s bunk!
Them: No. 100 per cent attendance, or death by blacklist.
Me: Okay, let’s go drinking after class?
Them: Navneet Digest
Them: We have to complete our chemistry journals.
Me: What chemistry journals? We’re studying Arts.
Them: What? NO THERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE (collective violent seizure)
Me: Guys IM KIDDING. This is Science. Seriously, get up. Come on guys wake up, I was only teasing, you made it to Science! Guys? GUYS? Oh s**t…
This system is hopelessly broken, maybe in a way that is unsolvable.
I spent so much of my education just memorizing things to stay ahead of the score curve, that the first time I realised I didn’t have the aptitude to be an engineer, I was already two years and three KTs into my degree.
I’m going to try and solve this problem though, by starting my own college. It’ll pay teachers thrice their normal fee, and only accept kids with mediocre and terrible scores. So if you got 100 per cent, don’t bother applying. We accept 96 to 99 percent only.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo.