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The parallel road to education

A large number of students study in `parallel' colleges, which do not get as much attention as the mainstream educational institutions do. Abdul Latheef Naha writes about the parallel college system and its role in Kerala's educational scene.



AN ALTERNATIVE CAMPUS: The setting may be an uninspiring one, but a lot of students have to depend on parallel colleges for their education.

Parallel colleges are a unique movement in Kerala. It supports about six lakh students who do not find a place in the regular institutions. Yet, it does not get any support from the Government and from the bodies that regulate education. It is a movement supported by the people.

Everyone, including the Government and the universities, knows that parallel colleges are essential for the present Kerala, whose zest for higher education finds no parallel elsewhere.

Nowhere is economic and social parity better displayed than in the parallel sector. Nowhere are classes as informal, personal and homely as in parallel colleges. And nowhere is unemployment so cheaply exploited as in the sheds and verandas that offer parallel classes.

No regulation

No one knows the exact number of parallel colleges in the State, for there is no regulatory body to monitor this movement. Anyone can begin a parallel college. It does not require any licence. According to a rough estimate, Kerala has 5,000-odd parallel colleges offering courses from the higher secondary to the postgraduate level. About 3,000 of them offer exclusive parallel education, and the others give additional tuition for regular students as well.

Among the top parallel colleges supporting thousands of students at a time are Saktan Tampuran College, Thrissur; Arya Bhatta College for Women, Guruvayoor; Mercy College, Vatakara; Our College, Thiruvananthapuram; Jayamata College, Palakkad; JB's College, Kannur; College of Commerce, Kannur; Scholar College, Neeleswaram; Classic College, Nilambur; Lakshmi College, Paravur; and Queen Mother's College, Aluva.

Besides, there are hundreds of parallel colleges in the cooperative sector across the State. Most of them cater to more than 1,000 students. More than one-third of the students who pass SSLC depend on parallel sector for higher secondary studies.

They register for the higher secondary examination through the Kerala State Open School (KSOS). Its State coordinator C. Gokuldas says that 2.05 lakh students are currently registered for higher secondary examinations from the parallel sector. Apart from the 5,000-odd students who study under the KSOS in science stream, the others (two lakh) are from parallel colleges.

Parallel colleges in Malappuram, Thrissur and Kannur districts cater to more number of higher secondary students than elsewhere. About 50,000 higher secondary students in Malappuram district are studying in parallel colleges. The reason: higher secondary schools in Malappuram are too few in number to cater to those who pass SSLC.

The number of undergraduates and postgraduates studying in parallel colleges is four times more than that those in the regular stream. More than three lakh undergraduate students study in the parallel sector under the State's universities. The number of postgraduate students, according to figures provided by leading parallel colleges, in this sector is more than 50,000.

For B.Com. in Calicut University, the number of students in regular stream is about 3,000 in a year. In the parallel sector, seven times more students are studying for B.Com - about 22,000. For BA and MA, it is four times more.

Fee structure

When unaided schools charge a fee of Rs.8,000 a year for higher secondary courses, parallel colleges charge only Rs.1,500 a year. That is why higher secondary seats in some unaided schools still remain vacant. A few unaided schools even scrapped their higher secondary classes for want of students. "The parallel sector prevents exploitation by the unaided schools and colleges to an extent," says A. Prabhakaran, State president of the Parallel College Association.

Parallel colleges levy an average fee of Rs.2,000 a year from degree students. This fee is often six to eight times more in some self-financing colleges. Even some aided colleges take huge donations for their management seats.

Most parallel colleges do not charge admission fee or take caution deposits. Admission procedures are more informal, direct and simple in parallel sector than in regular colleges.

Parallel students pay heavier fees for examinations as well. When a regular higher secondary student pays an exam fee of Rs.165 for a non-science subject, his counterpart in the parallel sector has to pay Rs.600.

Discrimination

Some parallel colleges recently introduced uniform for their students as part of an effort to instil a sense of belonging to the mainstream of education. But the students are often looked down upon by society. Busmen discriminate against them; so do examiners, universities and the Government.

"Ask your master to get you a bus" - this was a comment heard from a busman when a group of parallel students tried to board a local bus in Malappuram the other day. "It is nothing new. We are used to worse comments," says Mohammed Mustafa, a student at Cooperative College in Malappuram.

The Government does not spend a paisa for the parallel students. Although Minister for Education M.A. Baby promised positive steps in a recent dialogue with the leaders of the Parallel College Association, nothing much has come forth so far. The Government spends lakhs of rupees for youth festivals at various levels. The three-day State youth festival of parallel colleges held two weeks ago at Tirur, in which more than 2,000 students from across the State took part, received little support from the Government.

Sekharan Athanikkal, State secretary of the Association, says the Government should change its attitude to parallel sector, which is being exploited by many, including booksellers. Parallel college students have to remit their registration fee through the State Bank of Travancore. And the bank gets a commission of Rs.10 a person. "Regular students do not experience any such exploitation," says Mr. Athanikkal.

Association leaders say they are willing to close shop if it saves general education in the State.

Parallel colleges serve society by engaging a large number of youngsters who are not able to find a place in our regular educational institutions. "If they are allowed to idle at this age, they can be a potential danger for society. Thus engaging them prevents our youngsters from going astray," says Mr. Prabhakaran.

Success rate

In spite of functioning on verandas and in sheds with little academic ambience, parallel colleges achieve an average of 40 per cent results. For B.Com., it is between 40 and 50 per cent; for BA it is between 50 and 55 per cent; and for MA it is between 60 and 65. But for higher secondary, the pass is a little above 35 per cent. Considering the fact that most good students do not end up in parallel colleges, the present pass percentage is excellent, argues Mr. Prabhakaran.

Till recently, one-fourth of the university ranks were bagged by parallel college students. But then, our universities introduced 20 per cent internal marks for regular students. Parallel students have to overcome this hurdle through hard work. They have to write additional papers to make up for the internal marks. They are denied the `internal largesse' enjoyed by their regular counterparts. When a regular B.Com. student attempts 15 papers, his/her counterpart in the parallel sector has to write 17 papers. "The internal mark is dangerous," says Mr. Prabhakaran. It makes it hard for parallel students to find admission for B.Ed. and postgraduate courses, he says.

The university mark-sheets and certificates differentiate parallel students from the regular ones. Thus it denies parallel candidates the possibility of a fair deal in the job market.

Great contribution

Parallel colleges have contributed a lot to education, particularly that of women. In rural areas, women outnumber men in parallel classrooms.

"I have been in this field for the last 26 years. Our contribution to women's education, and thus their empowerment, particularly in a backward area such as Malappuram, has been tremendous," says Mr. Prabhakaran.

When one-third reservation for women in local bodies came into being, parallel colleges provided a great relief for the political parties. Many women who entered politics thus were from parallel colleges. Many of our present politicians have either studied or taught at a parallel college. Several of them have run parallel colleges.

Pay structure

About one lakh educated men and women today work in the parallel sector. They are paid between Rs.1,500 and Rs.5,000 a month. English teachers are much in demand, and, therefore, they get a higher salary. Teachers who bring in more students are pampered in this sector.

Unlike their regular counterparts, parallel teachers get wages for nine months. They look for some alternative during vacations in March, April and May. They have no examination duty either. Most teachers enter parallel colleges temporarily till they land a better job. Many leave, and many get stuck.

They admit that unemployment of the educated people is widely exploited in the parallel sector. Student organisations have started eyeing parallel colleges as part of widening their base.

Their units are being floated in some colleges. But college managers complain that the parallel movement gets little support from the student organisations.

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