Fate of Plus One students gets drowned in Sivankutty's number game in Assembly

V Sivankutty. File photo: Manorama

There was an explosion of numbers, and its attendant confusion, in the Assembly on Tuesday. The topic of discussion was the Plus One seats available in the State. It was Muslim League MLA N Shamsudheen who moved an adjournment motion on the shortage of Plus One seats in the Malabar region. General Education Minister V Sivankutty reeled out a mind-boggling set of numbers - the number of students eligible for Plus One seat in a district; the number of full A-plus students, seats in government, aided and unaided schools; seats in vocational higher secondary schools, polytechnics and ITIs; number of seats in science, commerce and humanities streams; number of seats left after all students were absorbed and many more.

The distillation of these perplexing array of numbers that the minister read out was this: In all northern districts there would be excess seats even after all eligible students were admitted. In Kozhikode, the excess would be 8,248 seats. In Palakkad, it would be 2,266. Kannur – 5,946. Wayanad – 1,962. Malappuram – 5,410. Kasaragod – 1,684.

The Opposition members were gobsmacked. If this was the case, what was the point of an adjournment motion in the Assembly. Shamshudeen, who moved the motion, had to first shake off the spell cast on him by Sivankutty's numbers before he could respond. "The minister seems to have been misled," he said. "Your numbers contradict the figures given in the government website," he said. According to Shamsudheen, nearly half lakh students in North Kerala would be left in the lurch, unable to get Plus One admission.

Later, opposition leader V D Satheesan and deputy leader P K Kunhalikutty, too, said that Sivankutty's numbers did not tally with the figures in his department's website. Satheesan had a logical poser: "If you say there are excess seats, what prompted you to implement a marginal increase of 30% in all Plus One classes in North Kerala." 'Marginal increase' is the addition made to the strength of a classroom to make up for the shortage of plus-one batches in a region. The accepted classroom student-teacher ratio is 1:40. With 'marginal increase', the ratio could be skewed to even 1:75, one teacher for 75 students.

"Why do you want a class to have 65 to 70 students and put the future of teenage students in jeopardy when there are excess seats," Satheesan said.

When Sivankutty insisted that his were the authentic figures and that the Opposition was wrongly informed, Kunhalikitty made a suggestion. "If that is the case, why not form a small committee of legislators and let's make a comparison of figures. There are many MLAs on your side who come from the North," Kunhalikutty said. Sivankutty smiled and then ignored Kunhalikutty.

The Opposition's major argument was that the Plus One seats in North Kerala were so short that even those students who had secured A-plus in all subjects were finding it hard to get admitted to schools in their locality. "Just imagine how harrowing it would be for a student who lives in Ponnani, near Thrissur border, to be admitted in a school in Nilambur, which is on the other side near Wayanad," Satheesan said. He said that certain students were even forced to drop out as a consequence.

However, the minister seemed to suggest that students would be aspiring for too much if they wanted admissions in nearby schools. "Even if you are the education minister, it will be hard to secure for a kid admission to a nearby school," Sivankutty told the opposition. The UDF's argument was that such a luxury was available for students with lesser marks in southern districts.

Satheesan, as well as Shamsudheen, had a solution. "Consider a taluk as the basic unit and ensure that every student in a taluk gets admitted to a school within the taluk," they said.

The UDF also wanted the government to increase batches rather than resort to 'marginal increase' in classrooms. Sivankutty did not commit anything.

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