One test not for India

Shady Coaches, Huge Costs

By Shivaji Sarkar

The country needs to go back to the drawing board on centralising entrance tests as the big ones – JEE, NEET, CUET and UGC-NET – are having far too many glitches and questions raised on the National Testing Agency (NTA). The NEET scam and NET cancellation have shocked the youth and raised questions on the credibility of the testing agency. Let the country note that within 48 hours of NEET results, four students took their own lives.

Should not the country rethink on ‘One Nation-One Test’? The tests be designed to make coaching redundant. Few have idea of the cost of one NEET – National Eligibility-cum-Entrance (Undergraduate) Test, previously called Pre-Medical Exam. It costs over Rs 400 crore borne by the parents of 2406079 candidates registered for the 2024 exam at the rate of Rs 1700 fee per applicant. The system does not say how much is the profit for NTA. It is common knowledge that no entrance fee is fully spent. Should it not be considered as a tax on the unemployed knowledge seekers!

There are approximately 108,915 MBBS seats available across 706 medical colleges for NEET 2024. Around 55,000 of these seats are in government medical colleges; the rest are in private medical colleges. One wonders why private colleges are included which have devious fee structure backed by severe capitation fees. The quality of faculty is also questionable. Of course, even newly set-up many state medical colleges too have such issues. Many even do not have a cardiologist or neurologist.

Add the cost of coaching, travelling, and other expenses, together to cost quite a few hundred crores more, big drain on the economy plus parental and societal stress. The Kota coaching system has an estimated business of Rs 600 crore. There are reports that the UGC-NET having nine lakh aspirants was cancelled as there was paper leak. Each question paper was sold for Rs 5,000 for transfer to the students’ Telegram app.

For NEET Rs 30-35 lakh per student was charged as alleged by a student witness, who got the paper with its answers a day before. It is possibly one of the biggest scams that spanned from Vadodara and Godhra to Patna and where not! It has sparked countrywide protests. No wonder the moves against generation of black money have not succeeded. Add to this the various recruitments stalled for scams, 13 in Uttar Pradesh, many in West Bengal and the worst known VYAPAM in Madhya Pradesh. The irregularities are thriving with the highest jobless numbers.

The NEET scam got exposed and how parents paid Rs 66 lakhs and more. Eight students from the same examination centre in Haryana who secured all-India rank (AIR) 62 to 69, had largely similar roll numbers. On 5 May 2024 at two NEET centres in Haryana, students received wrong question-paper set, which was taken back after 25 minutes.

A paper scam in Gujarat, featured Vadodara-based coaching centre, and at least 16 students who each paid Rs 10 lakh to pass the exam. Fresh accusations arose when news reports of a paper leak emerged only days after conduction of the competitive exam. A Godhra school teacher is accused of the NEET exam cheating scandal, Rs 7 lakh were found in his car, while cheques worth 2.50 crore were found from the office of the director of the coaching centre. Reportedly, this money was given by the students.

“There is a perception of mismanagement by the NTA”, says ABVP General Secretary Yagyawalkya Shukla. BJP MP Rakesh Sinha calls for severe criminal action against any nexus found between paper setter and coaching institutes. It has rattled everyone.

The reality is the NTA does not have competence to hold the examinations as many professional autonomous institutions have been doing for decades. None could raise a finger against any of them, including the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS). They also selected students with proper aptitude. An issue that has cropped up now with many of the national institutions, with CUET in particular. The only action against weeks after the NEET fiasco has been the cancellation of the examination for grace mark students.

The NTA appears to be loosely controlled organisation. The tests are gateway to careers and future professional excellence. If it is mired with malpractices and money power, the future of the nation is at stake. Would those adapting devious methods could ever have ethical bindings! The implementation is shoddy. The NTA does not conduct the tests on its own. Implementers are largely burgeoning private sector ‘service providers’, IT companies and emerging outsourcing infra organisations for conducting such mammoth tests. The competence of NTA for ensuring cyber-security at thousands of centres is doubtful.

Even invigilators and other staff are hired casually leaving the system vulnerable to attacks, pilferage and compromise. The suspicion over the countrywide coaching organisations calls for rethink on the composition of the tests. Are they giving instructions, or has it emerged as the most corrupt money-minting machines? Should not the country do away with this organised malpractice? The examinations need to be tailored in a way that students do not need any coaching.

National Convenor of Sanskriti Utthan Nyas Devendra Singh has demanded cancellation of the NEET test. The Shiksha Bachao Andolan founded by Dinanath Batra and Atul Kothari also wants the test cancelled.  Too much centralisation could be breeding irregularities. It is a diverse country with diverse state boards, languages and systems. This apart each genre of professional institutions has varied needs for selections. The previous systems of selections by many professional institutions, organised by themselves have rarely raised an eyebrow.

The NTA needs structural reforms. Conducting professional examinations are a challenge. Minister for Education Dharmendra Pradhan says, “We will take the final call”. The entire university system cribs over CUET – Central University Entrance Test. It forces students to take a test even for subjects, which are not in demand. The huge numbers have put off academic calendars for the past few years. Let universities conduct their own admissions as before to rid the system of over centralisation, delays and trauma to the students and their families.

The academics must put their heads together to have least of central admission examinations and more decentralised process not only to keep the process sanitised but also put India on the world map for its education, that such compromised systems sully. —INFA