Tamil Nādu abolishes the competitive examinations for admissions to medical colleges

NEET

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.

Rajan Committee’s Arguments

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.1

Our perspectives for abolishing the entrance test in all spheres

It is not just for the medical education seats that the competitive examinations need to be abolished. Here we argue 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. Let me present the IIT entrance exam as an example.

The IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)

This 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 programs 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. 2

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

The Scale of the Phenomenon

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. We will argue below that even those who succeed do not gain any meaningful knowledge.

Do these examinations really test merit?

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.3 Is that the basis for merit we want in our 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.

Is There an Alternative

There is certainly a need to look for alternatives for such a horrendously wasteful, unjust and unscientific system. The Justice Rajan committee report has suggested a very good alternative and the Tamilnadu government is taking a lead in this matter. It will be argued that for all India institutes this will not work, since State Board Exams are not standardised, their grades are not comparable and granting admission to institutes at the all India level can create problems.

But this problem has been known and initially BITS Pilani developed a satisfactory system to deal with it. Here is a simplified version of their method. Assuming that the topper in each state board scores 100% marks in PCM (physics, chemistry and mathematics), so, if the topper in the state A scores 97% marks, they add 3% marks to all the applicants from that state. If the topper in state B scores 89% marks, they add 11% marks to all the applicants from that state. Thus they are able to equalise the scores. Since there are only a few hundred seats and since this method is publicly known, the number of applicants will also be only a few thousands. So the whole admissions took only a few days and it did not cost student more than maybe a couple of thousands – not lakhs as of today. Unfortunately today they also have fallen into entrance examination system.

However another committee like the Justice Rajan committee can look into the question from all angles and can come out with a reasonable solution.

The Reasons for this State of Affairs

But why did this system come into being in the first place and why does it continue? There are ideological, political and material reasons. It is the ideology of capitalism that everyone can succeed if one tries enough. It is conveniently forgotten that the seats/ opportunities/jobs are limited and it is a system where many fail and few succeed. Politically it suits the ruling class to keep some hope alive among the people (in order) to keep on ruling. The system of reservation is also a device of this sort. Also it is a system where only those who can spend a few lakhs just for admission can have any hope to succeed. Finally it is big business where the IITs, the coaching classes and the publishing industry make money.

So what can be done?

Tamilnadu has shown the way. Popular governments in other states can take initiatives like Tamilnadu and improve the situation state wise. Obviously only non BJP states can take such an initiative now. At some point in the future when more pro people alternatives emerge in the country as a whole, the prevailing unfair system will go. But we cannot predict the future. Many other things will also happen and other solutions may emerge.

References

  1. https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/why-tamil-nadu-is-against-neet-and-other-entrance-tests-1858127-2021-09-28
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Entrance_Examination_%E2%80%93_Advanced
  3. Chomsky (Fontana modern masters) by John Lyons, 1997 (Third edition)

T. Vijayendra (1943- ) was born in Mysore, grew in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s. Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last nine years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. He divides his time between an organic farm at the foothills of Western Ghats, watching birds, writing fiction and Hyderabad. He has published a book dealing with resource depletions, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella and an autobiography. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving licence nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel based vehicle. Email: t.vijayendra@gmail.com


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