The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Toppers tumble two years on

Merit list to mediocrity, flashbulbs to fadeout — all in 24 months.

Two years ago, they were the toast of Bengal. Months of hard work had paid off, as they made up the Top-20 list of Madhyamik 2001.

Two years later, things have gone awry for some of them. Pushed off the merit-list — featuring nowhere near the top in this year’s Higher Secondary (HS) — and ranking really low in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), they find themselves rushing for a degree from lesser-known colleges.

Explanations there are aplenty — from “I wasn’t interested in JEE” to “the examiners erred” — but a cross-section of teachers feels these meritorious students, besides “lacking proper guidance”, couldn’t cope with the expectations and the media glare that accompanied their Madhyamik success.

Take Samyak (names of all students have been changed), for instance. This South Point boy slogged his way into the Madhyamik merit-list, clearing the 90 per cent mark comfortably.

Today, he is pursuing an honours course after having passed his HS with 80 per cent and fared poorly in JEE. Samyak, however, claims he was “not interested” in engineering.

Dhiman out-scored Samyak two years ago, passing out from an Uttarpara school. Today, he is studying for an honours degree in physics from a college near his residence. Records say he did not pass the JEE hurdle. “I got incomplete JEE results,” he protests. “Besides, I have applied for a review of some HS papers.”

Samyak and Dhiman are not alone. Most of the 2001 Madhyamik toppers do not figure in the HS Top-20 and there are many who have managed a dismal JEE ranking.

Examiner Chandan Maiti feels that many students who make it to the Madhyamik merit-list fail to handle the “pressure of expectations”. Medical College and Hospital teacher Sudip Das agrees, but also blames part of the ‘failure’ on the poor guidance in the run-up to the competitive exams. “Preparing for JEE is very different from Madhyamik. Intensive and exam-oriented training is a must, and these meritorious students probably lacked that,” observes Das.

A.K. Maiti, who guides JEE-aspirants, feels many of the “brilliant young minds” are done in by their Madhyamik success. “Success at the secondary level probably gives them a misplaced confidence that HS and JEE are as easy,” he says. “But they make a grave mistake, as the two are radically different.”

Ritwick Mallick is a teacher in a school neighbouring the one Dhiman went to. “I know that many students suffer from a confusion over which exam — HS or JEE — should be accorded more importance… This confusion affects their studies and they are left with mediocre HS, as well as JEE, results.”

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