Centre must not impose its policy on NEET on unwilling states

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By: K R Sudhaman

The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) controversy between Tamil Nadu and the centre is yet another example of deteriorating centre-state relations and to polarise politics. There are merits and demerits in centralised common entrance test for joining a medical course just as having common indirect tax like GST. Standardisation is good as it seeks to bring in uniformity but unfortunately in the implementation of such policies there is a big gap because of varying standards and level of education and development of different states in the country. As a result the standardisation that is being sought to be achieved gets derailed. This also breeds new forms of corruption, which gets added to existing ones.

NEET and JEE exams are tailor-made to suit the Delhi centric population as most of them who develop the syllabus have that kind of orientation. This is one of the reasons that performance of some of the southern states despite having higher literacy and level of education do not do all that well in such common entrance exams. This has led to increased demand for federalism, autonomy to states, so on and so forth. Even the so called three-language formula for schools hardly gets implemented in the north putting children particularly in south are put to disadvantage. While students in North are contend learning only English and Hindi as mother tongue is very close to Hindi whereas those in south have to learn English and Hindi apart from their mother tongue. Not many schools in the north offer a third language which is from south or east India to enable children truly learn three languages as in south.

This is one of the reasons Tamil Nadu insists on two language formula putting students to a disadvantage. Students in government schools do not get an opportunity to learn Hindi while schools following CBSE system do not get opportunity to learn their mother tongue. Three language formula puts extra burden on school children in south as compared to North. Likewise competitive exams too are tailor-made for Delhi centric education, it puts extra burden on children from south Indian schools as they will have to study that much extra as compared of Delhi centric education. The more languages one learns it is better for children as they get more job opportunities to work outside their zone and even abroad. Unfortunately politics seems to have better of it putting children to a great disadvantage. This is happening more in the face of regional parties in power in many states and BJP pursuing Hindutva politics and in the garb of nationalism is trying to bulldoze standardisation and common system.

Politics apart, this is an issue which needed to be pondered over if standardisation of educational system needed to be achieved. In GST implementation as well the state administration particularly in northern states is weak in administration compared to states in western and southern regions. As a result, the revenue that is actually to be mopped up never gets realised due to leakage of revenue. As GST being consumption based tax, many industrialised states which are mostly in western and southern regions stand to lose. So common tax or common entrance exams work when there is equity in the level of administration, education and a syllabus that is similar in all states. Before implementing common entrance exams, government must bring about uniformity and one syllabus in the entire country so that students get to learn culture, history, language, development of every state. Is it possible in a country as diverse and many languages, culture so on and so forth.

Standardisation of education in engineering and Medicine is good. At least in science and maths education there has to be some uniformity in school learning nation-wide so that there is no difficulty for students in common entrance examination. At the moment school curriculum in state boards is a state subject as education is in concurrent list. Although, the exam conducting body, NTA, always tries to ensure fair selection with minimal problems. But NEET exam has turned out to be a nightmare for many students. The reason being the exam has been surrounded by countless controversies over the decades.

A meeting of four non-BJP chief ministers — Tamil Nadu’s M K Stalin, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan — caught the public eye during the third week of September. The topic of the meeting was “federal rights”, with the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admission being its pivot. Stalin is seeking cooperation from non-BJP states and possibly the state may reportedly resort to a “Jallikattu-like protests.

The Tamil Nadu assembly recently passed a Bill to scrap the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) and admit students to undergraduate programmes in medicine on the basis of their performance in their Class 12 examinations — a move that the state government said was in the interests of “social justice”.

Education in India is uneven. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, one in four women in 15-24 age are illiterate. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu almost all women in that age group are in school.

Tamil Nadu has one of the lowest dropout rates and it enrolls 44.3% of those who finish high school into higher educational institutes. The state aims to keep children in school and get them to college over and above testing them for “quality”. The introduction of NEET entrance exam disturbs a settled political question in the state.

Some global research also indicates that standardised tests do not predict life outcomes but grades do. US is also looking at whether standardised tests like the SAT should be used at all in deciding college admissions. Research indicates that school grades are a much better predictor of the personality, which in turn determines a student’s actual success. Standardised tests ends up testing how socially advantaged a student is given that access to coaching classes, preparation guides and the like have a massive influence on test scores.

The proof of how well the system works is in the outcome it generates. If the purpose of medical education is producing doctors who provide healthcare for the society, then by all accounts, Tamil Nadu has a good system. After all, the state has India’s best healthcare system that’s been held up as a model for other developing countries by a lancet report.

Tamil Nadu feels such standardisation comes at the cost of its hard won success and a struggle for educational opportunity, which started in 1920s. India wants Tamil Nadu to regress to the mean. The 14th Finance commission recommendations or Goods and Services Tax or NEET or the National Food Security Act are pointers towards that. There is therefore some merit in Tamil Nadu resisting every one of these to retain the progress it’s made already. One only hopes a via media is found to end such unnecessary confrontation. (IPA Service)

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