Challenges to conduct one exam


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The new government has been engulfed in controversy regarding the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) and UGC-National Eligibility Test (NET)examination. That a centralised exam system is best for the country cannot be doubted as the capability and efficiency of the states in conducting such exams puts one in doubt. Before NEET, there were dozens of entrance tests across the country. Students had to appear for at least four to five exams and worry about clash of exam dates and travel to distant places. Every year, numerous cases were filed in high courts and Supreme Court related to these issues. Some experts have voiced the need for decentralisation, but this has very little justification.

Moreover, the private colleges are known for manipulation and taking money for selecting students and the exam is just for show. Thus, these colleges can hardly be left to conduct their own admission tests, more so as the state authorities have no control over these institutions. In many states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, 50 percent of seats in private medical colleges are for state governments to fill. But this cannot be allowed to be continued and an all-India norm has to be finalised.

There are also suggestions to revert to Class XII board exam results as the basis for admission into state government medical colleges. In this connection, one may refer to a recent letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin that the selection process of NEET exams should be through Class XII marks may be difficult to accept as different states have various modalities of marking and assessing students. The Tamil Nadu Assembly last week also passed a resolution, for the third time urging Centre to scrap NEET and allow state governments to undertake medical admissions based on class 12 marks, as was done before NEET’s implementation. However, it is well-known fact that there are states where school systems of some do not measure up to their advanced counterparts.

Though centralisation in any sector is not quite healthy, theoretically speaking, as authority is concentrated with the Centre and a particular agency, in the education sector it also has to be borne in mind that it is indeed difficult to rely on states which have been found to be corrupt and inefficient.It is said thatwith the anomaly in the NEET exam, the future of 24 lakh youth has been pushed into darkness. In one and a half years, one and a half crore youth have become victims of rigging in different examinations. Politicians are at the helm of everything, and academics are mostly sidelined.

Another aspect of the problem that has been raised is whether testing students for a paltry three hours can jam the nerve pathways of the most robust mind. These experts have urged the need for an exam modality that allows deep examination of students for which one test may not be enough. According to them, the new testing system ought to be a three-year progressive evaluation with a national general aptitude assessment with normalised scores to wipe out state differences.

A part of this would be a psychometric test in grade 10, which assesses the strength of each candidate and what he/she is best in pursuing. Before an entrance test is held, grades 11 and 12 should have focused national tests, including those assessing special aptitudes like writing code or creating music. Moreover, students must be allowed to choose from more than one national testing agency and even open book exams are also an option to be considered.

Questions have been raised about the reliability of the National Testing Agency (NTA) in conducting large-scale entrance exams. Experts are of the opinion that dissolving one agency and replacing it with another is no solution. India is too large a nation to afford one nation, one examination approach. The NTA replaced the CBSE for NEET and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) but it has failed to live up to the expectation in a very short time. There is need to strengthen the existing institutions and insulate them from political, bureaucratic and ideological interference.

Delving into the UGC-NET exam as per its perfectness, there have been complaints about its format – multiple choice questions (MCQs) that don’t really test teaching and research aptitude. The somewhat high registration fee, ranging from Rs 350-1150, depending on one’s location, may affect students from poorer sections. The Jr. Research Fellowship, which students can avail, after clearing UGC-NET to fund their PhDs has an age limit of 30.

Meanwhile, the deferment of the exam now may affect a large number of students. It also needs to be mentioned here that humanities and social sciences have been hit with fund cuts, closure or merger of departments, job precarity etc. There is need for changing the format of the NET exam while holding separate exam for those intending to be JRF.

However, it needs to be pointed out that the UPSC has been handling more than 10 lakh candidates in civil service examinations which is leak-proof. But as far as online exams are concerned, there will be a threat of leakage due to the continuous use of technology-based exams. The threat may increase with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as cyber security will be a concern.

The whole aspect of the problem is the need to curb corruption in the system and leave the whole affair to the academic community with no interference from politicians and bureaucrats. The NTA has to be strengthened and proper reforms brought in place which the new committee, announced by the government, chaired by the former ISRO chief, is expected to do. Obviously, for a country like India, it is difficult to believe that a centralised exam agency cannot fulfil its task efficiently. —INFA