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Why Odisha plans quota for govt school students in medical, engineering colleges


New Delhi: The Odisha government has proposed a 15% reservation for government school students in medical and engineering colleges. While the Naveen Patnaik government claims that it is aimed at curbing inequity and reduce the influence of coaching admission, the reasons could be more than just education.

Disadvantages of government school students: While around 85% of Odisha students are in government schools, only 23% of those who get selected through common entrances in engineering colleges are with government school background. Similarly, just 21% of those selected in medical colleges are from government schools.

The government in its proposal has said “after introduction of common entrance exams like NEET & JEE, number of students from Govt schools and colleges getting selected in these courses is getting reduced considerably – not due to lack of merit, rather for their inability to fare better due to lack of proper coaching”.

This confession of the government points to two key factors — one, authorities do acknowledge the role of coaching and tuition in preparing students for competitive medical and engineering colleges. And two, this also underlines that the government run schools in Odisha, like many other states, are not offering quality education to ready students for the next level of competition.

Falling Enrolment: Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, government school enrolment had shrunk by almost 1 million in the state, indicating that lack of quality and an aspirational middle class is shifting to private schools or even low-cost English medium schools. The shift reflects poorly on the state and the selection of a high number of candidates from private and English medium schools quantifies this failure of government schools.

The quota that the government wishes to implement may simply whitewash this lacuna and give a temporary boost to the goodwill of the state, but it may hamper the competitiveness of students in general and compromise meritocracy.

There are about 4,200 seats in government engineering colleges and 1,500 MBBS and BDS seats in government medical colleges of the state that take students through state level entrances. Besides, every state has a domicile quota in NEET admission. And in the admission to national institutes of technology (NITs) every state has a quota. Odisha may implement the 15% reservation in all these segments.

The Election Puzzle: Early 2022, the state will go to panchayat elections and for any regional political party, local and civic polls offer a fair assessment of its popularity on the ground. Chief Minister Navin Patnaik, who is now in his record fifth term in office, is gradually facing anti-incumbency. While Congress is struggling to revive despite its traditional base, the ruling BJD is facing a growing competition from BJP in the state.

And political groundwork of some of BJP’s national leaders from the state like Dharmendra Pradhan and tribal leader Jual Oram is bringing dividend to the saffron party. BJD’s tally in last panchayat elections held in 2017 dropped from 651 seats in 2012 to 473 seats. In contrast, BJP has grown from 36 to 297 zilla parishad seats in the same period. Education being a mass consumption issue for both rich and poor alike, any action that will fulfil aspiration of people may bring political dividend.

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