The 100 Percentile

In June this year, the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi set 100% (for Science students who wanted to enter the Commerce stream) as the cut off marks for admission. It sparked a huge uproar with parents and ministers chiming in on how a good education was now beyond the pale of even the highest scoring students. From an article in India Today, here are the statistics – The category of students scoring above 95% across the country in the CBSE exam witnessed an unprecedented spike as its number jumped from 1,202 in 2010 to 2,097 this year. In the Delhi region alone, this number trebled from 288 last year to 818 students this time.

In just one year, the ability of students to score marks has doubled or trebled, but seats in the colleges have not grown by the same amount. Let’s not kid ourselves that students have grown smarter overnight. Or that the education system has found a way to stoke their brilliance. It’s simply that the examination method has been mastered and breached – leading to problems at the next level of education. Quite like a traffic problem where the jam has shifted to the next mass intersection.

Now take this other story that hit the headlines a few days ago – Narayana Murthy, Chairman Emeritus of Infosys saying that the quality of students entering the IIT was declining. And he laid the blame squarely at the door of coaching classes that have mushroomed over the past decade – getting students to ace the format of the test rather than master the concepts. The game is always defined by the objective. Make comprehension the objective and it will be achieved. But we are all in a race to score the highest marks – knowing the subject be damned.

In a sense, it was an admission that the system was broken. But to say that the quality of students has declined is to decry the poor guys who worked very hard and got through – no fault of theirs at all or a testimony to their brain power. They were just getting better each year at beating an exam that has kept the bar steady for quite some time. He’s also admitting that it is getting harder to find the people they want. IT Companies do not want more brilliant people. They need armies of software coders to do the grunt work of large American corporations. And they are hiring armies and training them in droves. Information Technology companies are draining the pool of graduating engineers across India in just about every discipline. Manufacturing and services are finding it harder to hire freshers every year. It is as if colleges are expected to churn out fodder for IT companies to continuously process and profit from.

So we have this crazy situation where students are scoring higher marks every year but finding it difficult to get into colleges and study what they want. On the other side, you have companies moaning the lack of employable students who graduate. Once you’ve breached the 100 percentile, you have no option but to start over. Differently.