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Has Latur's winning HSC formula failed its students?

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
May 26, 2010 16:56 IST
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The Maharashtra HSC results were declared Wednesday, and Latur (which has been on top of the rankings the last two years) came in last among all eight divisions. Less than half the students who appeared for the exam passed. So does this spell the beginning of the end of the 'Latur Pattern' of study earlier extolled as the best? Mahesh Vijapurkar thinks it's about time.

Latur, where the system of rote and then methodical practice of questions expected in the secondary school final (HSC) examinations using model answers provided enables students to score high, should be wincing. Only 36,314 students passed from Latur this year (leave alone anyone topping the Maharashtra boards), out of the 76,302 students who took the exams.

On one hand, I feel sad for the time and money spent by students for this abominable method and have yet be rewarded with poor outcomes. On the other, I applaud, for at least this time, the time and attention of the appropriate authorities will be focused on finding out what went wrong. In my opinion, the Latur Pattern itself is wrong, and had better end. It is an expedient, and does not have any intrinsic worth.

It was extolled, it was recommended and adopted by virtually every other student hopeful of doing well and saving parents the burden of dishing out capitation fees to dubious colleges where professional courses were run without much academic infrastructure. It is time now to decide that the 'Latur Pattern' be buried, for it has spawned ills that the coming generations need to be saved from.

The way the pattern works is as follows: complete the course work early in the year, and the practice answers to questions -- every possible combination is contrived as course material -- as if one's life depended on it. Students work long hours, practice yoga for relaxation and remain cut off from the world.

Had it been confined to one college where it originated from, the Rajarishi Shahu College in Latur, I wouldn't have said with resignation, "Okay, here is a freak institution, may God help it!" and stopped there. But the reality is that fake guidebooks were printed, every street began to have tutorials which imitated the process, teachers from schools which produced poor results were hired as coaches, charged a bomb and poor parents took recourse to it. Not because it was a good way, but because it was the only way a student could do better and hope to join a good college.

Over recent years it has gained such renown that even Wikipedia has a page devoted to it! It is as if the Latur Pattern is a gold standard in education, which ought to be mimicked so that the tide of excellence rises across the Indian education system.

I'd rather call this not the Latur Pattern but instead the Latur Virus, for it has spread far and wide triggering a flourishing industry of teaching shops to which students make a beeline the moment school is done for the day. I have seen children disappear from the building drives, where they would normally gather for play, the moment the ninth standard examination results are out and the final year of the school is to commence. Tuitions start in the summer vacations between the ninth and tenth grades.

This parent-driven pressure is hard on the children, who suddenly find their lives transformed into one of a zombie --where nothing but textbooks, guides and even coaching classes matter. Discussions among parents are initiated to locate the best coaching class and the fee they would have to fork out. Then the student carries with him the homework to be done for the next day. He is completely shut off from the world.

Let me cite an example from my family circle. A chess-playing young boy, who played in the nationals and did well, decided to opt for either medicine or engineering and to secure a seat in a good college, hopefully closer home, needed to perform well in the boards. He went into something akin to the Latur Pattern (read Latur Virus), and his parents sheltered him from the intrusive world outside; no visitors, no television, no telephone chats et al. He did well and got into a college of his choice to take up a career in medicine.

I was shocked, not pleased, when I saw him (before he joined college) inspect an X-ray of his sister's fractured foot -- he described the bones, the point where it had broken in exact medical terminology. Although his father was a doctor, such signs of proficiency surprised me. When asked how he knew, the boy explained: "We were taught this in the tutorials".  I nearly fell off my chair!

Where is the need to teach physiology and why the call to ask such questions of a boy who is only aspiring to an education in medicine? Was he not to join a college and learn it there? Is there a conspiracy by which colleges are passing on the burden of initial teaching to the tutorials, to the coaching colleges? He had, a resident of Ahmedabad, taken the all-India pre-medical entrance test.

Returning to Latur Pattern, I agree with those who insist that it is examination-centric and doesn't much to improve the intellectual quotient of the student; that once the results lead to an admission in the desired college for a professional course, the student is out of the pressure cooker and more likely to perform poorly. Those who extol the virtues of the Latur Pattern should attempt to know what findings a study which traces the academic performance of the beneficiaries of this system in their undergraduate programme would reveal.

I have my doubts if it would be good in most cases. There are whispers about how these students do poorly in professional colleges and a study of this would help harvest data to decide if the Latur Pattern is truly what it is made out to be. To me, it is a temporary gain to be had, valid till the admissions are over.

And by the time the admissions are over, the student has lost three precious years which may have better spent learning to understand the world. It is an impressionable age, full of spunk and wonder, needing to play and have fun as well. But the system which extols the Latur Pattern does them a disservice. It does not prepare them for a life of actual competition, man to man, in real life.

The worst crime in life is to rob a child of his innocent years. In India, it starts with the friendly neighbourhood unregistered pre-school where baby is dropped off when instead (s)he ought to be playing with his/her grandparents, if the parents are out at work. But then, who cares?

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based senior journalist and analyst.

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