The Limit of Numbers

            A stack of pastel colored books sits on my desk at home. The pile of thin brown paper books is four feet high and each book's cover features student beaming with joy as they study for standardized testing. Seriously, who smiles while they study for the SAT? I could not think of something I enjoy doing less that sitting at my cramped desk while mulling over 30 minute math sections, questions analyzing a young immigrant's relationship with her abuela, and dangling participle after dangling participle.   Yet, due to the nature of education in the United States, I find myself having to do just that.

            While meeting with students from Cathedral, an old private day school in South Mumbai, the Niswarth group eventually got around to the subject of the college admissions process. Unlike in the United States, the admissions process in India is solely dependent on standardized testing scores. There is no essay, no interview, and no extracurricular activities - just a number next to a name.

In a country with 1.2 billion people, this process creates an ultra competitive environment. India also has a disproportionate population of individuals less than twenty-four years of age. Just like other young students throughout the world, many young Indians see education as a means of upward social mobility. The result: according to my new friend from the Cathedral School, India's top colleges such as Indian Institute of Technology and University of Delhi have acceptance rates around two or three percent.

The influence of this competitive environment has become more evident to me as Niswarth spends more time in Mumbai. Tutoring centers are everywhere. Billboards with the photos of ten young Indian students next to their test scores say, "Sterling Institute Students Get Results." Just this morning we drove by a tutoring center called "The Winner's Academy."

There is no room for gray area in the Indian admission system. You either have the test results or you don't. While the system may disadvantage students who are bad test takers, don't preform well under pressure, or have a particular strength outside the classroom, it also does not unfairly favor certain students. The son of a billionaire who has triple legacy at a school is given no advantage over a hard working kid from Dharavi.

I feel blessed to go to a school in which college is not thought of as an option but as an expectation. Nevertheless, the college admissions process has been weighing on me a lot these past few years. Many of the adults in my life tell me that it is more important to make the most of the college itself and not focus on getting into any one particular school. Standardized testing is a continual source of pressure, but after learning about the Indian system, I have to say I feel fortunate that many American universities focus on the individual rather than the numbers.

Media is often a great indication of a society's conscience. Yesterday Niswarth watched the Bollywood movie Three Idiots. The movie, which I have already fallen in love with, focuses on three friends who meet in engineering school. At the heart of the movie's plot are issues such as school suicide and rote learning vs. passionate learning. While watching the movie on the hard concrete floor of our makeshift classroom, I could not help but think some of the very issues I have been grappling with are also on the mind of the Indian public. In these past ten days I have not come close to understanding the intricacies of the Indian educational system. Will the United States move toward a numerically driven system as more and more students begin applying to schools? Or perhaps Indian schools will move toward an all-encompassing admissions process? Either way, I will be anxious so see what changes, if any, come of this pressing issue.