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Friday, March 20, 2009
University admissions: a tragic mess
Is this a farce or a tragedy? Whatever the answer, it is our children who must suffer from the maddening university admissions system.
High school students and their parents are furious at the system and at their own hopelessness to get their voices heard.
This year, for example, the new rules forced high school students to take extra national tests when they had not yet completed the curriculum for the school year. Is that not farcical?
Even university deans think poorly of their rectors' judgement. So much so that more of them have refused to accept the central admissions system and started to recruit their new students directly themselves.
The whole thing became even more farcical, when chairman of the Rectors Council, Pirom Kamolratanakul, in his capacity as rector of Chulalongkorn University, announced that his institution would increase the percentage of direct recruitment from 30 to 60% because his deans do not trust the decision of the Rectors Council.
Should we laugh or cry at this?
It was amazing how Mr Pirom managed to keep a straight face while explaining why his deans disagree with the new rules, which increase the weight of cumulative grade point average from 10 to 20%.
When most high schools give the best grades possible to help their students, increasing the weight of cumulative grade point average would only further enflame this problem. It is beyond understanding why the Rectors Council cannot grasp this common sense.
Moreover, the Chulalongkorn deans do not believe that the extra aptitude and professional tests would better screen students for them. Since their opinions on how to adjust the system were not heeded, the Committee of Deans decided to protect their faculties' academic standards by increasing direct admissions.
The Faculty of Arts, for example, has decided to adopt 100% direct recruitment starting next academic year. The Faculty of Engineering will increase direct recruitment to 80%.
Good for them. But not necessarily so for the students.
As more and more faculties in various universities increase direct enrolment, it is only natural for the students to want to maximise their chances by taking as many direct entrance exams as they can. That means more stress and more fees to pay. It also means those who can afford expensive tutoring and expensive fees will have more chances at getting into university than those who cannot.
Moreover, direct admission at Chula is divided into two categories, ordinary and special direct recruitment.
Special? The university has a lot of explaining to do, as to what it means by special, since its board - despite the huge income from various commercial complexes - has forced each faculty to pay not only their own public utility bills but also for their teaching laboratories and equipment.
An education system is supposed to increase social egality. But this messy admissions system and the efforts to undo the knots have ended up screening out poor students more effectively.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has vowed to overhaul the university entrance system. A good move. But it is simply not enough. The country needs to rethink and revamp the whole education system.
The university entrance mess is just a symptom of an education that kills the children's creativity and questioning minds by overwhelming them with heavy memorisation, intense competition, and fear of not getting into university.
It is a myopic system which judges the children by very narrow criteria and miserably fails to tap their potential and talent. The kids who do not meet the system's narrow standards are simply discarded and made to suffer low self esteem. It is a cruel system that pushes the kids who fall through the cracks to seek acceptance through destructive means.
Allowing this cruel system to go on is a complete tragedy for our country.
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