Odisha’s Decision to Reserve Engineering/Medical Seats in Government Institutions for Government School/College Students is a Double Edge Sword


    One of the major milestone decisions in the last cabinet of 2020 of Odisha Government is to give reservation in Government medical and engineering colleges for MBBS and engineering degrees for students passing out from Government schools and colleges. The State Government claims that there are several meritorious students in Government schools and colleges in Odisha but many of these students lose their chances in state Government medical and engineering colleges after the introduction of centralized tests like Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) which need special skill.

    These special skills are imparted mainly through the coaching centers. Many of these students in Government schools and colleges in rural areas may not get access to private coaching classes, especially those who come from a poor financial background. Many of these coaching centers are expensive and run mostly in urban pockets. This argument is valid as many of these students, even from middle class or lower middle-class backgrounds in Odisha send their children to outside states, like Kota, Hyderabad, Delhi, etc. just to succeed in these entrance tests.

    For the implementation of this cabinet decision, a high-powered committee headed by a retired judge of the honorable high court will be constituted including educationists and other members. The committee will decide the modalities detail of the decision. The move is an outstanding decision and there are many positive aspects of it. First of all, it will boost the morale of students from Government schools and colleges.

    Secondly, it will help to bring back and encourage parents and guardians to send their children to Government run schools and colleges. Thirdly, the decision will discourage the privatization of schools and colleges especially in the rural pockets of Odisha.  However, several serious concerns may spoil all the good proposes. One major disadvantage of this move will be for those parents who want to give quality education to their children. Over the years, the private education system in schools and colleges have become competitive even in smaller towns in Odisha.

    There is a big gap in quality education in private schools/colleges and Government schools/colleges, and this gap is growing exponentially over the years. Every aspiring middle class including the lower middle class in Odisha today wants their children’s education to include extracurricular activities, dance, music, sports, painting, spoken English/Hindi, etc. along with mainstream academic success. These activities are rarely found these days in Government schools and colleges.

    Even poorly financed private schools like Sishumandir are performing better than Government schools both in extracurricular activities and academic performance on many occasions.  Interestingly, teachers/lecturers in Government schools/colleges have a much better salary and other benefits compared to those serving in private schools/colleges in Odisha, few exceptions are those limited international schools in the state capital region. But commitment shown by the teachers and management towards the individual students and their guardians is much more visible in the private schools/colleges compared to their Government counterparts.

    It is not the fault of teachers alone because teachers in Government schools are more indulged in other non-academic activities like collecting data for the population census, distribution of voter identity cards, construction of school building, mid-day meal program, etc. Most of the state or central Government public data collection is done through Government school teachers.

    Most of the time in a year these teachers are engaged in these activities. Besides, there is a lack of a sufficient number of regular teachers/lecturers in Government schools/colleges. For the past two decades, contractual teachers/lecturers are employed instead of regular positions without giving many benefits, these contractual employees rarely take a serious interest in the development of Government school/college. In a couple of cases, it is observed that regular teacher /lecturer exploits these contractual employees without doing much academic work and carrying out other private business or farming/agriculture during school time. 

    Teacher (regular) union is also a strong political force and many of these union leaders are close to the ruling party or work as proxies for Government policies. From time to time during election ruling party use these organizations for political benefits and vote banks. When it comes to college level, there are statistics to support that few Government colleges have higher cut off marks to admit students in +2 sciences/arts/commerce than few other private colleges in a given town, but after 2 years of education, these private colleges surpass those Government colleges in the number of toppers, first-class, and passing students in the CHSE board exam. 

    Students from private schools/colleges are more often finding a place in the district level topper lists for matriculation and +2 science/arts/commerce board exam across Odisha (except state capital region) which were earlier occupied by only students from Government schools/colleges. A similar success rate is found in the entrance test for medical, engineering, and other national-level tests for professional or higher degrees. 

    For any good thinking guardians, these statistics do not encourage them to send their children to Government schools and colleges. Reserving seats in medical and engineering colleges for the students may encourage few guardians to reconsider sending their children to Government schools and colleges, but it also put them at risk because the reservation will be for a limited number of seats. In this highly competitive exam, there is no guarantee that a student will succeed always unless at the top level.

    The second risk is after completing a degree in a Government engineering college, there is no guarantee of employment. Private institutions like KIIT, SOA in Odisha have better employability than a few Government engineering colleges. Moreover, with lots of vacancies in engineering seats recently, some of the private engineering colleges are becoming as affordable as Government engineering colleges for top students. Medical colleges’ case may be different as there is a big difference in fees structure between Government and private ones.

    However, the quality of education in private medical colleges are slowly improving in Odisha. In this scenario why good thinking parents will send their children to Government schools and colleges by sacrificing quality education in school and college, even though it might cost them!   With the new reservation in place, perhaps a smaller number of meritorious students from private schools and colleges may find a place in Government medical and engineering colleges, which may encourage many of the leftover meritorious students to populate the private medical and engineering colleges.

    It is well evident in national institutions like IITs, AIIMS, etc., and also worldwide in top universities that the quality of students largely defines the success of the best institution in professional and higher education. When a greater percentage of meritorious students will switch to private engineering and medical colleges, Government engineering and medical colleges in Odisha may lose their advantages over the years and meet the same fate as Government schools and colleges are suffering today.

     A section of students, especially those in major urban areas, particularly in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Rourkela, etc. may take admission in the best Government schools/colleges to avail reservation but attend class in private schools/colleges and/or coaching centers. In such a case, the basic purpose of the Government might be defeated. 

    Therefore, it is the best interest of Odisha that beside reservation for the students from Government schools and colleges, the state Government must simultaneously give higher priority to improve quality education in Government schools and colleges by adopting a modern teaching method like liberation education program, increasing the needed number of regular and committed teachers/lecturers, hiring committed and experienced teachers/lecturers from private institutions, encouraging extracurricular and other activities in schools/colleges as par with the private institutions, developing infrastructure, NOT involving teachers/lecturers in non-academic Government work, NOT politicizing teachers organization, etc.

      (The views expressed are the writer’s own)

    Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
    Professor Department of Chemistry
    American University of Beirut
    Beirut, Lebanon
    Web: http://myprofile.aub.edu.lb/dp03

    ( Images from the net )