Thursday, June 20, 2024

CUET is necessary


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By Benjamin Lyngdoh

After the arrangements for the ‘pen and paper mode’ Common University Entrance Test (CUET) Under Graduate examination went horribly wrong at NEHU, Shillong on May 15, 2024, there were many opinions and demands to scrap or exempt CUET for Meghalaya. This writer views such demands as a knee-jerk reaction as the context of entrance examinations for admission into higher classes requires an extensive analysis. Even the state government cannot wash its hands of CUET examinations by claiming itself as a meagre third-party at the periphery. The unfortunate episode at NEHU should be taken as learning for better preparations in future by all stakeholders concerned. But, that should be that. Anything beyond would be a case of cutting the whole tree just because of one affected branch, when, what actually required is only tree pruning.
Lack of clarity
There is lack of clarity from the state government on how it intends to deal with CUET. What is forthcoming are only stop-gap measures. Asking for exemption or showing intent to ask for exemption every year is not a solution. In fact, exemptions only depict two things – one, the state government is unwilling to address the issue once and for all; and two, it shows Meghalaya as being unwilling to sync (or at least even try) with national developments in education. This type of indecisiveness is hurting the psyche and future prospects of the students. One of the roles of any government is to ‘foster support’. However, the CUET episode of this year has shown no inclination of ‘support’ from the state government. For instance, in the earlier part of the year this writer received calls from many concerned parents whose children were waiting for the class 12 results. The questions were what to do about CUET UG? Is it to be done or not? Will it be required for admissions this year? Till that time, there was no direction from the state government. Will the one addition year of exemption for 2023-24 (with the very first exemption being in 2022-23) be further carried forward to 2024-25? No clarity at all. The best advice that could be given was to apply and try for CUET as we will never know what the state government would decide. Hopefully the coming year(s) will be less confusing.
Everything is not
an imposition
Meghalaya has a history of looking at things with suspicious eyes. For instance, when it was mandated to have PAN cards for identification, etc there was hue and cry. But of course this was not too much of a problem as the STs of Meghalaya and working within their own state do not need to pay income tax. The hue and cry became a lot louder when it came to the Aadhaar card. Biometrics is somehow related to the devil. Then news came that Meghalaya was exempted from Aadhaar. People rejoiced. But, it was futile as today Aadhaar has become mandatory in almost all walks of life. Now, it is CUET’s turn to be frowned upon. Some observers and political parties view it as an imposition. This is followed by a straight rejection of the test without looking into the merits. All that is seen are the demerits. The feeling of ‘imposition’ in the backdrop of poor preparations by the state government is tenable; however, this lacuna could have been used to demand from MDA 2.0 to make quick and proper arrangements. Strategize for appropriate number of testing centres in every district as per some parameter, say student population. Use problems to create opportunities and solutions and not spread negativity in society, especially amongst the young students.
The big picture
CUET has been sold in Meghalaya as something of a taboo. It is depicted as something very difficult and that which the students will never be able to accomplish. Wrong! The message is misleading with a dosage of misdirection. The question that needs answering is whether our students should be taught that they are mentally and intellectually inferior even at this age and time? How about driving them to try new things and view themselves as being part of the bigger Indian picture. A recent survey by iDreamCareer, New Delhi categorised CUET 2024 as being ‘easy to moderate.’ The conclusion was based on student responses and examination format study. These types of findings can be used as motivational factors for both the state government (to prepare for it) and students (to undertake it). Further, CUET provides an equal opportunity to all to highlight their in-depth domain knowledge and skills. It helps in rationalising lenient and strict marks allocation. It is a fact that all educational institutions have their own understanding with regards to awarding marks for answers. It is subjective. For instance, a student with 60% marks may be more knowledgeable and skilful than the one with 65% marks. CUET is an opportunity to mitigate and rationalise such cases.
State university
It is a matter of pride that Meghalaya now has a state university. It is equally a matter of concern that MDA 2.0 is looking at the state university as a medium to escape from CUET requirements. The step if indeed implemented would be regressive in nature. It would be a reaction to the past failings of the state government. A better approach would be to act by preparing a blueprint on the targeted progress of Meghalaya education into the coming 5-7 years. Embedded within it would be the infrastructural requirements for CUET implementation. This makes more sense than the argument that a student from rural Meghalaya will not be studying outside the state and hence, no need for CUET. As stated earlier, CUET is a means to rationalise high-low percentage marks; and, who is to say that the students from the rural areas are less knowledgeable than the urban lot?
Start again, now
The very first exemption for Meghalaya came on May 13, 2022. This was extended for another one year on March 15, 2023. The dates are important as it shows that the state government has had two full years (and more) to prepare for CUET implementation. Two years is a lot of time for any government to show tangible outcomes. Again this year an opportunity is provided. Will it be a case of fight or flight for the MDA-02. Further, on the concerns about mushrooming of coaching centres, many such centres will continue to come up in the near future as they respond to the market dynamics. Coaching centres hence cannot be an excuse to dodge CUET; rather, it is an opportunity for the state government to do something about it in these nascent stages by framing appropriate rules and regulations on their functioning.
In the final analysis, CUET is necessary not only in terms of the demands of the times. It is about having a wider perspective towards human capital and its development. Small drops of water make an ocean. CUET is just one small drop. It is up to society to decide what type of ocean Meghalaya should become in the next 10-20 years.
(The writer teaches at NEHU; email: [email protected])


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