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Bell tolls for student ‘apartheid’

Mumbai, Jan. 25: Announcing the end of “academic apartheid”, the Maharashtra government has said schools cannot segregate students on the basis of their marks.

Parents, counsellors and educationists had lobbied against the practice of putting students in different sections according to the marks they scored, calling it a “gross human rights violation” that had a severe damaging effect on the children’s self-esteem.

The government last evening passed a resolution stating that schools would have to stop the practice with immediate effect.

The order, issued by the education department, was three-fold. It asked all schools to ensure there was no “vilagnikaran” (segregation) during admission or promotion.

Against the practice of “better students” getting to “choose” subjects and “inferior” students being forced to take the remaining subjects, the order said everyone should get an equal chance to choose. Finally, it said a school should treat every child as equal.

“We considered the problem after a group of parents met us,” said education official Basanti Roy, who was involved in drafting the resolution. “The state human rights commission asked us to prepare a set of guidelines. Those were issued last evening.”

The activists who have been lobbying for the past five years ' the Counsellors’ Association of India, the Parent Teacher Association United Forum, the department of psychology at S.N.D.T. University and the Bombay Psychiatric Society ' hailed the order as a “victory”.

“We filed a petition before the high court in October 2004,” said Arundhati Chavan, president of the parent-teacher forum. “At that time, there were 72 schools in Mumbai and a total of 165 schools in the state where segregation was being practised.”

She named some reputable institutions, including “the I.E.S. group of schools, Parle Tilak Vidyalaya and Balmohan Vidya Mandir in Mumbai and Bedekar High School in Thane”. The I.E.S. group recently passed an internal resolution recommending an end to the practice.

The section in which a student is placed tends to become a tag for life, the activists feel. “An ‘A’ section student would always identify his or her section when asked which school the student went to,” Chavan said.

Dr Harish Shetty, who has campaigned on behalf of the Counsellors’ Association of India and is tired of meeting very young patients who hate school because of this grading, talks of the other end. A D-, F-, or I- or K-grade makes students depressed as they think that is their station in life.

“It is casteism,” said Dr Shetty, who first spoke out when he heard a reunion was being organised only for the “A batch” students of Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, as they couldn’t “relate” to the rest of the class. “It dictates that ideally a classroom should only have software engineers.”

Within a week, he will move the National Human Rights Commission to draw its attention to the practice in schools all over the country.

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