After almost a month of debate and petitions, the Supreme Court's ruling on the 'best of 5' rule has finally offered respite to lakhs of class X students in Maharashtra. The apex court on Tuesday declared that the 'best of 5' rule for class XI admissions would not be quashed but instead be extended to ICSE students as well.
The ruling now clears the way for colleges to begin the much-delayed applications process for junior college admissions for the current academic session in the state.
But how has the ruling gone down with students, parents and college authorities?
"The ruling cannot really be deemed fair," says Mohit Vatsala, parent of an ICSE student in Mumbai. "SSC students can choose the best of five subjects, while ICSE students can only choose from certain subjects (group 1 and group 2 subjects)."
Dr Kirti Narain, principal of Jai Hind College, Mumbai says: "The ruling now is more fair than the rule was initially, even though it is a conditional rule. At least students from both boards (SSC and ICSE) get the advantage of 'best of 5', instead of just the SSC board students."
Fr Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier's College, Mumbai agrees. "I believe the ruling is quite fair. The courts have strived to give equal weightage to each board. According to the SC ruling, the ICSE students also benefit from the rule, not just the SSC board students."
"In fact I was quite surprised by the High Court's decision [to quash the rule]. It would not have been fair to the SSC students at all. So the SC decision is a welcome one. Also, according to the ruling, 'best of 5' for ICSE will be enforced on academic subjects and not non-academic ones, which is also a good move," he continues.
Prateek Somany, a resident of Pune whose son just passed class X from the ICSE board, agrees. "It's good that the court has extended the rule and that admissions can start. But even with this ruling, I don't think 'best of 5' is a good rule to have. It encourages students to neglect one subject, instead of giving all subjects their best shot. Such practices should not be encouraged."
Like Prateek, many parents whose children study under the ICSE board still have their doubts about the ruling, however, because of the delay most are pushing for the admissions to begin and the academic year to get underway.
"The (academic) year has already been delayed because of the court procedures," says Bindu Maitra, whose daughter studies at a suburban SSC school in Mumbai. "Children have been waiting for so long to begin college, unsure of what their percentage will be or whether they will get into the college they want. And now when they finally begin college they will have to rush through the course to make up for lost time."
According to reports, a group of ICSE parents are going to appeal the ruling later this year in an attempt to throw out the rule completely. According to the original 'best of 5' rule, SSC students could use the aggregate of the best 5 scores (out of 6 subjects) for their final percentage. The government adopted the rule on the reasoning that the scoring of papers by the ICSE and CBSE boards was too lenient and that SSC board students were at a significant disadvantage.
In response ICSE students and their parents filed a High Court petition to quash the rule deeming it unfair. On June 23, the HC agreed that the 'best of 5' rule was unfair and quashed it. The Maharashtra government then took the case to the Supreme Court. On July 13, a bench of Justices V S Sirpurkar and Cyriac Joseph extended the rule to ICSE students as well, giving college admissions the green signal.
Students bear the brunt
The admissions for class XI (junior college) have already been delayed and colleges will have to decide on how to cover the year's syllabus.
"Students have been affected badly by this whole process," says Dr Narain. "We are still waiting for the government's go-ahead to begin admissions. Last year too the admissions were delayed and the term only began by August 10. This year it looks like the admissions will continue till August 10, which means the term will begin much later in the month. To make up for lost time, we will be forced to shorten the term and even maybe drop the first unit test (as we did last year). This is not fair to students at all, since they not only have to rush through the year's syllabus but also will not cover all the material that they would have in a regular year."
Parents share the sentiment. "In their attempt to ease students' woes, the government has instead increased them this year," says Arati Mishra*, a parent of an ICSE student in Pune. "The students have suffered because of this. Besides the wait for admissions to begin, now colleges will have to rush with the portion and might even have to cut short vacations. That is not fair to students at all."
But Fr Mascarenhas says that cutting short vacations does not seem like a workable option. "Admissions have already been delayed, and we still have to wait for the government to begin online admissions. That typically takes a month, so we are looking at maybe beginning the academic year post August 15," he says.
"With such a delay, I don't see any solution other than cutting short the portion. The other option is to cut short vacations which will not be fair to the teachers. They are already on campus for class XII lectures and to ask them to work even through vacations is not an option really."
"As for asking students to put in more time in college for extra classes, that too is not really possible. Typically an arts student has classes from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm. To ask them to stay longer than that would be counterproductive."
The SC ruling might not be the end of the 'best of 5' issue yet as parents continue to debate its fairness, but for this academic year at least students can finally prepare to begin their college careers.
*Name changed on request.
What do you think of the 'best of 5 rule'? Do you think it encourages mediocrity or is it a valid solution to the issue of 'lenient' marking by the ICSE and CBSE boards? Do you think the SC ruling is appropriate?Have you been affected by the delay in admissions? Share your opinions on the messageboard below...