“Please, unlearn all that you learnt in school.”
First day of class in English Literature and these are the pearls of wisdom which our teacher gave us. And really, she was right. While CBSE teaches a student how to hone her skills in rote learning, an honors course in English teaches one how to think outside the box.
I am not really sure if the decision to scrap the entrance exam for an honors course in English Literature will be a big help. Both the teacher community and the student community might have to suffer. Because contrary to common perception, the English (hons.) course does not entail having to deal with unseen poems and writing a story summary almost per verbatim (which currently is what we do in CBSE). It means taking a literary work and viewing it from a lot of different perceptions. It is about reading between the lines; hidden metaphors, double meanings – a full analysis. Therefore, just like B.Com is not everyone’s cup of tea (and those who are not capable get filtered out through high-cut offs), neither is English Literature. That is the reason why one needs a test to determine who is capable of handling a subjective subject like this.
The system of conducting entrance tests has been in practice since nearly twenty years now. The English Departments of eighteen DU colleges have found these methodically evolved tests extremely useful in determining, with the help of their decades of experience, which student is really capable of pursuing this course. Also, admission on the basis of class XII marks may prove to be an obstacle to the humanities students, who generally score less than the science and the commerce students. And, often, they are the ones who are most suited for the course. The year when I gave the exam, nearly a thousand odd girls gave the entrance test in LSR. Naturally, many of them were from science and commerce background, having got in their nineties in English and total aggregate. And yet, most of my classmates are from humanities, having scored below ninety, either in aggregate or in English, or both. Of course, this did not happen to just our particular batch; this seems to be trend which occurs each year.
If the Class XII result becomes the sole criteria for admission for English Literature, obviously the cut-offs will be high. Then, deserving candidates might just lose out. Many students who have got a low score in class XII have often won gold medals at both B.A and M.A level. While CBSE basically tests a student’s capability of handling pressure, English Literature requires students who have analytical capabilities. Currently, the entrance tests have a 70:30 ratio; 70 per cent weightage is given to the test and 30 per cent to the class XII marks.
I do not know how valid is the argument that giving so many entrance tests proves to be cumbersome for the students. Records have shown that no student gives all eighteen tests of the eighteen different colleges. On an average, a candidate gives only four out of the eighteen exams. Also, I remember how, when I had to give the test, the teachers had repeatedly stressed on the fact that no before-hand preparation is required. So, there is no time ‘wasted’ in preparation. Well, I agree with the view that interviews in some colleges can be done away with but I find it hard to endorse the decision of scrapping the test altogether. This is because I come to remember the problems that I faced of transition from CBSE course to English Literature. And I came through the written test. I still remember the girl who had come to our class through the ECA ( Extra Curricular Activities) quota; she did not have to give the entrance exam. Her first question had been, “So, do you like reading?” She had chosen English (hons.) because she thought it was a ‘soft’ subject. After facing enormous teething problems, she eventually left the course.Now, consider the scenario where a lot of student who are incapable get inducted. By mid first year, they would know that. And so would the teachers. Hence, we would have a class with disheartened students and teachers who are resigned to fate.
Currently, we are a bunch of students who are more or less on an equal platform. Most of us pay attention in class. Really, we have had discussions in class where the entire class was able to participate. I may have been lucky enough to have gotten admission through the test. However, here the issue is a higher one, beyond the selfish need of just one person gaining admission. This is about the future of an entire Department in Delhi University. I really do not want a scenario where we may have to say, Rest in Peace, English (hons.)!
[Image by Rayman Gill]