If Andhra Pradesh government has its way without any hurdles, educational institutions offering the two-year intermediate course will go through a paradigm shift after decades of free-for-all exploitation, abuse and commercial enterprise.
Asbestos sheds as classrooms, premises sans fire safety certificates, mind numbing advertisements blitz, admission hunting, compelling teaching staff to market colleges, overcrowded classrooms and other transgressions will be a thing of the past.
In a state like AP, where an average family places a high premium on education at any cost, some enterprising individuals smelled a business opportunity and started intermediate colleges in the past four decades, which grew into formidable corporate players in the due course of time.
Starting an educational institution is not a crime but exploiting the system with an ambition to increase revenues is a serious issue, which occurred without regulation across the Telugu states.
Over the years, several junior colleges erected makeshift sheds without libraries, playgrounds, proper facilities and crammed students to call them intermediate colleges.
It is exactly this abuse of the system which V. Ramakrishna, Board of Intermediate Education (BIE) secretary is aiming to shatter for the good of lakhs of students.
BIE is the regulating government body which oversees intermediate education in the southern state.
“Still there are 300 colleges which are running in sheds and all those people are exerting huge pressure on me but I have not yielded,” Ramakrishna told IANS.
For instance, a popular junior college in Bhimavaram, West Godavari district, before being acquired by a bigger group of educational institutions by the same name from Kakinada, erected a couple of huts on Juvvalapalem Road and took a few double bedroom houses on rent and called it a junior college with a hostel back in 1994.
After the first year, lecturers from that college visited the homes of the students to plead them to continue their second year intermediate education as well.
By 2000, the college was acquired by the larger group of educational institutions from Kakinada in East Godavari district with the same name, which quickly erected a few asbestos sheds near addavantena (diagonal bridge) behind Aiyappa Swamy Temple and called it an intermediate college,
It accepted admissions from hundreds of students in Bhimavaram, several nearby villages and also places as far as Narasapuram and Palakollu.
It rewarded one of the lecturers from the college it acquired with the position of principal.
Six to seven students were crammed on one bench under asbestos sheet roofs in a long partitioned shed without doors and windows to close even when it rained.
However, with the new online only admission system introduced in March for first year students, every college in the state has to upload 25 pictures of its classrooms and infrastructure on BIE website for a student to make an informed decision about the college, where he will spend the next two years of his formative late teens.
“We are displaying 25 photographs of each college for all the 3,000 colleges. If you want to select a college, 25 geo-tagged photos of that college are displayed. A student can also see the bathrooms and then take a decision whether to select that college or not. He can take an informed decision,” pointed out Ramakrishna.
The BIE secretary said he will not extend affiliation to colleges operating in sheds without proper infrastructure and in commercial complexes among other requirements.
Similarly, the online procedure will also end the admissions race among colleges, which forcibly transforms some of their teaching staff into marketing personnel, fanning them around the towns and villages to hunt for admissions, and thereby develop business for higher revenues and profits.
As the admissions are centralized through the BIE website, no physical admission will happen at any given college.
“BIE will generate a merit list based on students’ preference and that list is communicated to both the colleges and the students. Students can just walk into the classes,” he said, negating the exploitative and abusive role of those colleges.
The board has also extended the facility of online fee payment, wherein a student can complete the formalities without even visiting a college to directly walk in with his admission allotment on the first day of classes.
BIE online admission manual clearly gives the step by step methods to be followed by a student.
Incidentally, some colleges which did exceedingly well in bagging prestigious ranks in competitive exams did not figure in the BIE list of colleges open for admission.
“If you don’t have a fire safety certificate, I am not bothered if you get a rank or not. Is your rank more important than the fire safety certificate?” questioned the BIE secretary, underlining the importance of students’ safety.
This admission reform will pour cold water on corporate colleges’ schemes as they cannot take in students indiscriminately which they have been doing all over.
In addition to that, Ramakrishna has also limited the number of students to 40 in one classroom and just nine such sections for first year and nine more for second year per college.
In effect, a junior college will have 360 first year students and 360 more in second year, 9 sections multiplied by 40 students. Total 720 will be the maximum in a college, though some relaxation will be offered in special cases.
“Out of these, two sections have to be compulsorily from the arts stream. I made it compulsory. Science sections are only seven. Compulsory for every college, without that we do not give affiliation,” highlighted the senior Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer, who is on a reforming spree, correcting the ills allowed by his predecessors over the decades.
All these years, most junior colleges have conveniently ignored teaching arts subjects or for that matter even offering an arts stream option.
Ramakrishna cited examples of interested people finding it difficult to find a junior college offering arts stream.