Abolishing Admission Test

T Vijayendra

Tamil Nadu Admission in Professional Educational Institutions Act (2007) abolished the Common Entrance Test (CET) and proposed the Pre University exam marks as the criterion for admission to professional courses. This applies for admission to medical colleges run by the state government. However, now the government of TN wants to oppose NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) also.

On September 20, 2021, the Tamil Nadu government released the 165-page report of a nine-member committee, headed by retired High Court judge A.K. Rajan, which has made a case against entrance tests such as NEET.

Earlier on September 13, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) had piloted a legislation in the legislative assembly to scrap NEET. The bill will bring both government and self-financed medical colleges under its purview.

Even the opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is on the same page on this issue. Except BJP all other parties are with the state government. The bill has to wait for the president’s approval.

The Rajan report extends the arguments for the abolishing of competitive examinations to include a wider social perspective. According to the report, NEET for undergraduate medical seats will send Tamil Nadu back to pre-Independence days, “when in small towns and in villages, only barefoot doctors were catering to patients”. It also points out that Tamil Nadu would slip in the ranking of states for their medical and healthcare systems. Further, the report states that the exam in its current form discriminates against Tamil medium students and does not provide a level-playing field for students across financial backgrounds. The report says the introduction of NEET as sole criterion for admissions into medical colleges has adversely affected the share of seats that were historically enjoyed by students who passed the Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Examination (TNBSE) while working to the advantage of CBSE students.

It is not just for the medical education seats that the competitive examinations need to be abolished. Here one argues that the whole system is wrong and should be abolished for admissions to all educational institutions. The system which aims more at screening than at selecting, is highly resource intensive and unnecessarily creates a setback for underprivileged students. Furthermore it has already been established that it completely fails in its objective—that of selecting on the basis of merit.

The IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) has evolved over the years. Today it is conducted in two stages—Main and Advanced. The Main examination acts as a filter. The qualification rate of the JEE—Advanced in 2017 was approximately 0.92%, about 11,000 candidates out of 1,200,000, who applied for JEE main, cleared it. That is, about 1,189,000 students experienced failure! This is an unnecessary inexcusable trauma. On this score alone these examinations should be abolished and replaced with a better system which selects and not rejects the candidates.

In terms of finances, it is another horrendous story. More than 90% candidates go to a coaching class with fees that go up to 200,000 rupees for the entire duration of coaching. Typically they prepare for 2-4 years! The ‘coaching industry’ itself amounts to more than 20, 000 crore rupees per year.

Coaching programmes have evolved into major corporations, listed on the Indian stock market and also attracting tens of millions of rupees of investment from private equity firms. The high-pressure environments at these coaching institutes have been responsible for a significant number of suicides.

These coaching institutes have fairly well qualified teachers who could otherwise be teaching students in the mainstream rather than in this wasteful industry.

Apart from IITs there are NEET, IIMs, CA, LAWCET etc. examinations. All the major states have their own CETs. It will not surprise anyone if the total number of aspirants for these qualifying exams exceeds 10 million. Most of them are in the age group of 17—25. In other words, a significant segment of youths, in their most productive phase, are wasting their time in preparing for these examinations. In truth even those who succeed do not gain any meaningful knowledge.

Most of these examinations today are based on ‘objective’ type of questions offering multiple choices of answers. What is the theory behind this method? The idea was proposed and established by the behaviourist B. F. Skinner in the U. S. Noam Chomsky demolished this theory in a famous debate with Skinner in the 50s. Chomsky argued that the theory is based on the ‘Stimulus—Response’ (SR) model of the brain. This model was evolved from studying rats in a maze where they must reach a piece of cheese. Chomsky argues that rats in real life are far smarter than these laboratory rats and that the human brain is far more complex and smarter than these rat brains! Chomsky further demonstrated that these SR models are the requirements of the capitalist factory workers where they are required to monotonously respond to signals or stimulus—like tightening a screw on each piece on a moving conveyor belt. Thus they are requirements for a slave and these tests are designed to select better, more obedient, faster responding slaves .Is that the basis for merit people want in universities or for that matter in any walk of life?

The children of the “ruling class” however, have a different education. The formal education is only a part of their complete education and it would usually be liberal arts—languages, philosophy, mathematics, classics etc. They go through colleges like Presidency in Calcutta or St. Stephens in Delhi and then Oxford/Cambridge/Ivy League universities in the U. S. etc. Travelling, visiting museums, meeting important artists and scientists socially is also part of the education for them. Sports, work out, swimming etc. are also part of their routine. They have resources and time for everything.

There is certainly a need to look for alternatives for such a horrendously wasteful, unjust and unscientific system.

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Vol 54, No. 35, Feb 27 - March 5, 2022