When I  typed out the title for this post I wondered if it was not bordering on the pretentious? I mean I am not exactly Adam Smith .   But so what ?.. mediocrity like wealth or perfection also requires creation and nurturing….and who can do it best .. except probably the Government of Tamilnadu?  Now wait don’t yawn and start moving the page down   thinking  “God! There she goes… TN bashing once again!” I have  reasons ( I always have!!!)

I was talking to my friend sometime back. Her daughter is appearing for the tenth standard public examination conducted by the TN state board . As those in TN may know there used to be two local boards- the matriculation and the state board ( one mediocre and the other worse than that !) which have now been merged into one- THE MEDIOCRE! Anyway, coming back to my friend. I had called to wish her daughter good luck for the exams. The mother and the child were both quite relaxed and I was admiring it all considering that I do not know the meaning of the word “ to chill” ( in my daughter’s vocabulary). I was just telling them about how I admire  it when they told me the secret – apparently the Government of Tamilnadu had circulated prior to the exam, five “model” question papers for the students to work out. The teachers of this reputed convent school in Chennai where my friend’s daughter studies had told the students that it was going to be question paper no 4 or 5 which were most likely going to appear! So this child was just preparing herself for those two papers. The teachers had been most “helpful” dictating answers to the questions which in anyway were from the exercises at the end of every lesson!

I understand that the situation in the 12th standard examinations is no different! My daughter’s math tutor told me that the sums that appear in the maths exam are also from the text book in all the state government conducted examinations- 10th or 12th !

So why all this hypocrisy about the papers reporting on the students who are – “ state first”  and the Chief Minister and Education Minister congratulating the students and handing them out medals and certificates? Who are they kidding?

Let us now look at what happens post the 12th standard when these children are ready for college. Almost ALL would go for “professional” course ( though what profession it would exactly prepare them for is very doubtful!) They all do engineering and medicine- engineering more than medicine because you can come out after those four years and maybe work in a call centre or a BPO if nothing else while in medicine you have to slog for five plus years and then write an entrance examination for the MD which probably only 2% of these students might clear! There is no entrance exam to get into these courses. It is completely based on your school leaving marks. And with the government being so “obliging” in terms of giving marks and granting licences for setting up these Engineering Colleges ( today’s Indian Express reports “CM gifts more colleges to rural Taminadu”) there is room for everyone in at least one of these institutions! And about those who do not get into these colleges after coming out of the state board schools- they have to be extremely poor or extremely dumb!

Now let us see what happens to these students when they are out in this  world- most companies hesitate to employ them as engineers and when they are employed they buckle under the pressure because they are not used to using their brains!

They become part of the beneficiary group of the state subsidies taking their free TVs, mixers and grinders and leveraging their caste status to get more .. ! Many may join the government and perpetuate this.

And we call this one of India’s more developed states? If this is what development is all about – feeding people everything they need and creating a situation where they would collapse if this nourishment is withheld then I am not sure I want this kind of development…! This kind of development is required for the very backward states to help them kick start a process- something that Tamilnadu did very successfully in the 1960s and 70s but to keep this up in the 21st century is complete folly! Or is it shrewdness -I wonder because it certainly keeps one of the two Dravidian parties in power..

Tamilnadu has become a very inward looking state. There was a time when the Indian beaureucracy across all states had a large number of Tamil people but today they prefer to stay in the state because the kind of benefits that their mediocre abilities offer would be impossible to get hold of in other states. Yes, there are droves of people who go on that HIB visa to the US to earn in dollars – I would say that  they are the ones who actually “make” it among these mediocre types. 

I see such medicore people even among the non profit sector- people I work with on a regular basis. People whose creativity is dead! People who prefer to blindly follow instructions rather than pose questions- they feel intimidated to contribute something in a group of peers from other states that discusses issues animatedly. I sometimes wonder why- whether there is a language angle to it. But I am increasingly beginning to realize that it is not the language..! In a sector like ours you often learn to question when you yourself may have experienced some sort of discrimination, marginalization or hardship- where you turn those negative experiences into positive energies to work for change. For others who may not have had a lived experience of discrimination  the confidence to question may arise out of a good education system. When it is neither you remain a fan of “status quo” in what is largely the change business!

So- there I have given you the recipe about how to create mediocre individuals.. But as someone told me- this policy of the Tamilnadu Government in terms of strategy has won it many laurels- it has a deceptively high literacy rate( and is ofcourse very revenue rich thanks to its liquor business).  And lets face it –have you ever heard about a “question paper leak” in any of the public exams here? A question paper leak for the government is a huge headache as it means setting a new paper and going through the entire examination rigmarole! So they have saved huge amount of rupees which would be spent more profitably on providing laptops for the kids in standard 11 and 12 so that they can browse all the porn sites on the net!

I am not going to apologize for the frustration that is coming through- I realize I am  one among a minority .. I am probably chasing a dream..  When Tagore wrote “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” he certainly did not have this in mind.  The mind today is without fear because it is lulled into complacence and about the head being held high – figuratively I speaking, there are no heads.. only  tails which are wagging away- sometimes the whole body along with it!


  1. Employ-ability of such student (mediocre)but bench marked as brilliant is a reflection of the standards set up:(

  2. And, all this is very shocking to me. I share your indignation, Meera. Really, this is how the Board Exams are being conducted? And, I thought TN was doing well in terms of education. This malaise of not letting them use their brain is the crux of all problems these days. The exams are becoming easier, the question papers more predictable in the name of reducing pressure. I think our entire approach is going haywire. We want to have a holistic approach to education, but it is ending up being pedestrian and confused.

  3. Meera,

    Hard hitting but factual. Vote hunger, which leads to absolute shortsightedness, is the major cause of our downfall since independence. We are gradually slipping backward in many ways.

    Take care

  4. Similar problem is in Nigeria..but not from the govt, but corrupt privateers, who sell the questions out. It is called 'micro chips, expo, missle, or bullet. When it is found out, some exam centers will be cancelled, or the date postphoned, and another batch of questions prepared...nevertheless, many still succeed.

    There is a common slang among students : Who reads, he is serious, who passes, he is brilliant. Yes! this affects them later in life when they are not able to pass post-UME exams into the university or aptitude tests to get a job.

    Mediocrity is celebrated in some schools and aspects of our existence.

  5. You have the right and reasons to be indignant.
    I agree with you in toto.
    Way back in the seventies when Gujarat was cowed down by many months of student unrest, examinations were waived and that year all students on the roll were given pass. The result, those who were from Gujarat that year were denied admissions in universities in other states.
    Quantity and quality is not the mantra, because of vote banks. Mediocrity has to be perpetuated, thought stifled or made of unimportance for the political clan to survive. If India of the ancient excelled intellectually, the country of tomorrow will grope in mediocrity

  6. @Rachna, the entire "development" in TN is nothing but a myth sustained by a government that has made people so dependent on it that they cannot survive without that help!

    @ Simply mee yes, selling exam papers is a big business in India but unfortunately an avenue closed in this state as the government is almost giving out the answers through their schooling system :(

    @ Rahul yes, you are right -brilliance of such students is a myth. They will not survive anywhere other than in this state.

    @ Anil about the Gujarat thing- I think it is about time that people reject students from the TN state board and "professional" colleges.. atleast the Gujarat students lost ayear due to no fault of theirs - here it is completely different!

  7. //TN may know there used to be two local boards- the matriculation and the state board ( one mediocre and the other worse than that !) //

    ha! lovely post, written especially during the time of exams I guess. I could relate to the model question papers and how they "actually come for the exam"!

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Namaste....
    Sadly MEDIOCRITY is a standard and unfortunately many have fallen under its spell. I see it and I baffle at its acceptance.


  9. Really nice stuff. I like it. Thank you for sharing.

    ERP gujarat

  10. @ Rhapsody and Sondra thanks for your comments. Sondra, looking forward to seeing more of you on this blog.

  11. I always thought TN was self-sufficient! had been once to Coimbatore and have no idea as I was in Kinder Garten! so U opened my eyes? Indeed :) :)


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