Eventually, the matter seems to have been settled with the intervention of the High Court. The country's education system, already hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, has recently been plagued by complications regarding the date of birth of students applying for admission at the secondary level. Considering the risk of infection, the authorities decided to do away with admission tests for government primary and secondary school students, and instead make selections through lottery after receiving applications online. The deadline to apply for admission to secondary schools was December 15 to 27. As parents went to apply for their children, along with the often encountered slowness of the Internet and server issues, they had to contend with another problem—in many cases, applications for sixth grade admissions could not be processed because the date of birth specified in their birth certificates did not comply with the minimum age limit (at least 11 years) set by the authorities. As a result, many failed to submit applications within the stipulated deadline. There has been a lot of noise in the country about this.
Ultimately, the High Court stayed the order of the concerned authorities after a parent filed a writ petition, ordering that students below the age of 11 can also apply for admission in the sixth grade in government high schools. At the same time, considering the internet and server problems, it directed the concerned authorities to extend the deadline for submitting online applications by seven working days.
At any stage in this country—be it school, college or university—the admission process is like going into battle. In the case of children and adolescents, parents become the main participants in this war and go to great lengths to enrol their children into prestigious schools. The huge crowds, the noise and the decorations during the admission season are really worth seeing. Many parents even hire one or more tutors or enrol their wards into a coaching centre to prepare them for admission tests. On the other hand, the school authorities not only have to organise this huge workload of student admissions, but also often have to accept the pressures of the requests of various influential quarters for the admission of students beyond the rules.
Apparently, one of the reasons for the parents' desperate attempts to enrol their children into a handful of reputed schools is the huge difference in quality between these schools and others. However, many will question what exactly is meant by quality here. Of course, at the end of the year, when the results of various centrally conducted examinations come out, there are big celebrations for the success of students from these schools. However, the question remains, is this because of the high quality of teachers, teaching materials and teaching methods? Or is it because the most studious and brightest children go to these schools because of the reputation they enjoy? Maybe both factors have their roles here.
The reason behind these questions is also that a large number of students studying in these schools tend to seek the help of one or more private tutors. If these students were not concentrated in a few schools but were scattered more widely in different educational institutes, perhaps the picture at the end of the year would take on a slightly different form. However, parents are unlikely to be interested in listening to this. They will run after reputed schools. Moreover, companionship also has a special importance. The boys and girls with whom your children are growing up, socialising and competing with, certainly have an important role to play in the formation of their overall mindset and the development of their innate talents.
Over the past few years, the authorities have been organising admissions based on the results of Junior School Certificate (JSC)/Junior Dakhil Certificate (JDC) and Secondary School Certificate (SSC)/Dakhil examinations, instead of organising admission tests for ninth and 11th graders through an online application process. As a result, the tendency of the parents to engage in these unnecessary races has come down a lot. There were, however, some problems in launching the online system at first; for example, the inexperience of the applicants in this system, the inability of the server to take enough load, errors in published results, some miscreants using the roll numbers and other information of students to apply in advance, etc. However, the problems encountered were nothing unexpected while introducing a new system, and were gradually disappearing. It would be pertinent to mention here that although the system of admission tests for ninth and 11th grades has been abolished, schools across the country have been admitting students through lottery in the first grade and through written tests in the second to eighth grades. This year, for the first time, it has been decided that students in all grades, from first to ninth, will be selected for admission through lottery due to the pandemic.
Although everyone is already familiar with the other problems of online applications, the birth date complication was a new addition here. It's not like these restrictions of the date of birth and age limit were not there before, but perhaps, this is the first time that these things are actually being monitored seriously. Setting a minimum age for a student studying in a grade can be important for many reasons. There are specific age limits for entry and retirement in government services in the country. There are different age groups for participating in various domestic and international events and competitions. Specific age limits are also considered for obtaining various scholarships abroad, participating in employment and gaining immigration in some countries. However, what is being overlooked here is that if a child becomes fit to study in the first grade at a relatively young age, then there is a likelihood of them taking an affidavit and accepting a fake date of birth in order to increase their age. How acceptable is this in terms of ethics? Are we making them accustomed to unethical behaviours from a young age? The ultimate solution for this seems to be in taking strict measures to ensure that all births are registered at birth.
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is Professor of Pharmacy at Jahangirnagar University.