Friday, May 24, 2024

Pandemonium over CUET exams: Who’s accountable?


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By Patricia Mukhim

In the age of social media nothing remains an unrevealed secret for too long. The fiasco over the conduct of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) by the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) on May 15 is known to everyone across the country and NEHU is scarred for not being able to conduct the examination with due diligence. Is this an attempt by insidious forces to give NEHU a bad name by conducting the examination in such a pathetic manner that it has created a very poor impression of the University? Who is at the top of the administrative ladder who is responsible for the smooth conduct of the CUET? Is it not the Registrar? Did he constitute a team to aid and advise him on how to conduct this public examination? Why is it that the names of 3000 students and their designated classrooms were posted only at one place? Isn’t this asking for a stampede?
One of the things that the NDA Government should take credit for is “disruption.” We understand that disruption is not always bad but what is needed in the case of CUET is non-disruptive creation. True that the purpose of CUET is to balance out the marks that students score in their Class 12 exams since some teachers have the propensity for over-marking and others for under-marking especially when it comes to subjective answers. The idea of CUET may not be bad but as always its implementation is the problem. The other city colleges that held the CUET had smooth sailing. So what was the problem with NEHU? Did the NEHU admin not know that it would have to accommodate 3000 students? If so, what was the reason for the melee? Who will be held accountable for this fiasco? Whoever bungled this must answer for it because the mayhem has caused enormous trauma for hundreds of students, many of them coming from rural areas and having to leave only after completing the first part of the exam. It’s cruel; it’s unforgivable; it’s unjust and it’s inequitable because it favours the city students but is harsh on those coming from a distance.
Now there are many things that are new to the students appearing for the CUET exams. They apparently had to leave their shoes outside the classroom (examination hall). Girl students wearing earrings had to remove them because of some disruptive technology that is sensitive to metals. It rained fire and brimstone on May 15 around the time of the exams, just as it did on May 16. The inclement weather meant that the temperatures had dipped. Students wearing jackets were told to leave it outside the examination hall. This reminds us of the David Copperfield sort of age when children of the labour class were treated as little less than animals. Some parents narrated their tales of woe and said that their son who had come from the village and was so exhausted by the experience of running from pillar to post to find his designated examination room that he barely wrote anything. Instead, he fell asleep and had to be awakened by a co-examinee sitting by his side. What a predicament this is.
Anyone who reads or hears of this CUET fiasco in NEHU would think that the University has never conducted examinations for students from outside in the past. But the professors claim that several competitive examinations have been held and flawlessly executed by the NEHU staff and teachers. So what’s the problem with the CUET exam and who is going to pay for the mental and emotional trauma caused on that fateful day?
For now the CUET has taken the form of a nightmare for the many young students who were allotted NEHU as their centre. The NDA Government gave the National Testing Agency (NTA) its birth in 2017 to conduct a series of entrance exams and recruitments. But conducting exams in a country as large as India requires a foolproof system in place which also means the ability of the Agency to tie up seamlessly with the institutions it enlists to conduct these entrance exams. The NTA is an autonomous agency under the Department of Higher Education of the Ministry of Education. But those who know the inside story say that the NTA does not have the requisite human resource needed to effectively discharge its onerous task. Recently the NTA made a mess of the NEET exam where medical aspirants in Jaintia Hills got the Hindi question papers whereas students in Rajasthan who write their exams in Hindi got the English question papers. The very fact that some students are able to write their answers in the vernacular while others have to write in English makes the examination inequitable. But this debate is for another day.
As knowledgeable professors of universities have stated, the CUET for Meghalaya is a futile experiment since the majority of students are going to study within the state. Those wishing to study outside the state can take the CUET exam but it should not be made mandatory across the board especially when an institution of repute like NEHU has bungled big in the conduct of this exam.
Now the debacle of May 15 has created rage across the Meghalaya spectrum. It is seen as a conspiracy to put our students on a slippery board from which they have slipped and slipped badly. It has pained the parents of those students who could not complete their exams. It adds to the grievances that are already piled up. This anger is directed at the State Government too for failing to negotiate with the Ministry of Education to do away with CUET for Meghalaya. Some state governments like Tamilnadu and Karnataka have put paid to the National Education Policy (NEP 2020 by refusing to implement it. These states are instead working on a New State Education Policy which is perhaps nuanced towards the culture and moorings of the people there.
There is a problem when everything is sought to be equated to nationalism. Also these common entrance exams have become a business model for coaching centres. Those who can afford to, send their children to these coaching centres with the expectation that they will get through their NEET and other entrance exams. These coaching centres charge a hefty fee and parents are willing to part with it. Such is the competition to enter the medical and engineering fields and now even law studies and entrance into a university. Competition has become a daily fare but at what cost?
These are issues that need to be thrashed out at the level of the state and if states like Tamil Nadu can stand up to the central government why are states like Meghalaya so supine and ready to acquiesce with the agenda of the Central Government? We would also like to ask as to what sane advice the much-touted Education Commission of Meghalaya has come up with till date. Will the Government care to make public the outcomes of the discussions since they impinge on the student population of this state.
The stated objectives of CUET seem fair enough. It advertises itself as an essential step for students aiming to enrol in undergraduate programs across a range of disciplines in India. The test is designed to assess a wide array of skills including critical thinking, analytical capabilities, and subject-specific knowledge. These are necessary aptitudes for one entering college. But the problem is whether a student passing Class 12 in Meghalaya actually has that critical thinking capacity considering the inadequacies in our education system. But perhaps this too can be integrated into our school system early on.
Also the CUET evaluates proficiency across four main areas: English, Mathematics, General Knowledge, and Domain-specific subjects. Each section is crafted to test specific skills such as language proficiency and mathematical ability to general awareness and specialised knowledge according to the chosen field of study. This is fine. The problem with CUET this time in Meghalaya is not with the students but with the manner in which it was conducted by NEHU. Will those traumatized students get a second chance?


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