Friday, June 02, 2006

Affirmative Action, Merit and Reservation

In a recent article on rediff by Praful Bidwai, the author gives his reasons as to why the anti quota stir is " misguided ". As with a lot of people, once again the very concept of merit is questioned. Another interesting point is that he refers to reservation in India as affirmative action.
First, when we talk of affirmative action, we are talking of a act of redressal - a command to the wrongdoer to take positive action. Mostly we talk of affirmative action with respect to ethnic minorities, women etc. India is the ONLY country were we apply it to castes. A comparison has been made with USA, talking of its affirmative action policies - it should be understood that many states, notably California and Washington do NOT subscribe to AA. Also, in USA and UK we have the contribution system which takes into account merit, family earnings etc.
Moving on to merit, it is tough to quantify a persons potential. Agreeed. However we do have systems wherein we can at least partially evaluate a students faculty. If at 18 a person cannot multiply 15 and 13, it is to be understood that he is no Ramanujam!! Yes, our tests need to be streamlined but that does not mean we can question the concept of merit. Is the SAT / GRE system or the O and A level system perfect? Hell no. But they sure do their jobs.
So what would be a solution?
First, to address merit - a unified board across India with a single entrance exam to UG colleges like SAT, with separate common tests for engg /law / med..
Next, as far as affirmative action goes - introduce the contribution system. Let a student show his family earnings and based on it, a percentage would be paid by the family and the rest by the govt. Free more money for scholarships and financial aid. Enhance the quality of rural education. Introduce a quota for the rural students on the condition that one generation and one generation of a family alone is eligible for the reservation. To continue " AA " on the basis of caste only contributes to a India torn into pieces.

- hari


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