Thursday, July 18, 2024

Education in complete disarray in Meghalaya and the country


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By Patricia Mukhim

To be a youngster in this country today is to go into a state of depression. Imagine the millions of aspirants for medical studies writing their NEET exams only to be told that there have been paper leaks in some states. The entrance exam to universities – CUET was itself held in a somewhat chaotic atmosphere leaving many students bamboozled and wondering whether they live in a country where things are being messed up by a political class – a large number of whom have dubious degrees and fake claims to scholarship. And then to add salt to already festering wounds is the sudden cancellation of the UGC-National Eligibility Test (NET). This exam is conducted to determine the eligibility of the candidate for the role of assistant professor or junior research fellowship or both, for Indian universities and colleges. The exam was previously conducted by the CBSE authorities that also carry out the Grade XII CBSE exams. However, now the rights for conducting all the exams from NEET to CUET to NET rests on the National Testing Agency (NTA).
Several young aspirants sat for this exam. I know of a few serious candidates who flew back all the way from Mumbai to be on time for the exams and put in their best efforts only to be told that the exam stands null and void because of paper leaks. How can such things be allowed to happen without any serious consequences against those responsible for the leak? Isn’t there one thing that the NTA can do right and without causing so much distress?
It is important to delve into the genesis of the NTA. It is not a brainwave of the NDA Government. On the contrary its roots can be traced to the Programme of Action 1992, related to the National Policy of Education 1986, which mentioned conducting national-level common entrance tests to professional and non-professional programmes of study. The wheels started moving in 2010 with a report being submitted to the then Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) (now the Ministry of Education) by a Committee consisting of some directors of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which recommended that the National Testing Agency be created by an Act of Parliament”. The report mentioned that a statutory agency can ensure independence and transparency in the testing of the magnitude that was being envisaged.
In 2013, the MHRD constituted a seven-member task force to prepare the blueprint for creating a special purpose vehicle to take the concept of the National Testing Agency (NTA) forward. This was following a decision made in April 2013 to set up the agency. The UPA Government was not able to take it forward from there. In 2017, the Union Finance Minister announced in the budget speech of 2017 that the NTA would become a reality. The Cabinet approved this decision to set up the NTA and Vineet Joshi was appointed the first Director-General of the agency. On 7 July 2018, the former Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar stated, during a press conference, that the NTA will be holding the Joint Entrance Examination–Main (JEE Main) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Undergraduate (NEET-UG) twice a year, and will also be holding the National Eligibility Test (NET), the Common Management Admission Test (CMAT) and the Graduate Pharmacy Aptitude Test (GPAT).
The NTA is administered by a governing body which includes a chairperson, a secretary and eight or more officials representing different national level institutes. It is claimed that only about 25-26 people are employed to manage this huge paraphernalia of activities which determine the future of so many of our youth. The NTA has had to deal with one scam after the other. In the NEET 2024 exams which had about 25 lakh aspirants, the question paper was leaked on May 5 in Patna (Bihar). Police claim that the gang involved in the paper leak allegedly took between Rs 30-50 lakhs from candidates and gave them question papers beforehand so they could memorise the answers. Interestingly, the results of the NEET exams were declared on June 4 when the results of the Lok Sabha elections were also announced. This when the NTA had said that the results would be declared on June 14.
Results of students scoring above 700 marks were published and went viral over the internet. Students and teachers were appalled as it was not possible to score such high marks in the NEET-UG due to the structure of the marking scheme. Candidates scoring full marks went up from 2 in 2023 to about 69 in 2024. From the merit list uploaded on the public database by the NTA, it was also revealed that of those 69, scoring 720/720 marks, six took the exam from the same or nearby centres in the Jhajjar town of Haryana.
This naturally created a furore among the student community, especially the genuine aspirants for medical studies. The NTA tried to explain away the discrepancies but not before many students and their parents approached the apex court. The NTA then adopted a normalisation formula devised and approved by the Supreme Court vide its judgment of June 13, 2018 to address the loss suffered by the candidates. Owing to this order, 1563 candidates were granted grace marks. The revised marks of those candidates varied from 20 to 720 marks. Again students complained that there was no notification in the examination brochures and the criteria on which the grace marks were allotted. A High Powered Committee was then set up to look into these disgraceful anomalies. The Committee recommended that the NTA should reconduct the NEET (UG) exam 2024 on June 23 for the 1562 candidates that had suffered ‘time loss’ during the originally scheduled exams on May 5, 2024 and who were awarded compensatory marks.
In such a situation one tends to agree with the Tamil Nadu Government which has resisted the conduct of NEET exams on the plea that it privileges students from urban backgrounds that can afford coaching. It is also not far-fetched to state that coaching centres for NEET have sprung up like mushrooms across the country and one wonders who gets a cut from such centres.
In such an abysmal situation when entrance exams to professional courses cannot even be conducted without any glitch, how do we expect those heading the Union Ministry of Education and the Education Departments in the state to be wise enough to provide an education system that is equal to the best in the world.
Ever since the NDA Government took over the reins of this country in 2014 there have been attempts to tinker with the syllabus and to bring in facets of history and science that point to a glorious past, but leave out the ugly scars of such history. History is a statement of facts and gives the student an overview of life in that era as recorded by historians. There is a general suspicion that the historians of a certain era have been left leaning liberals and therefore have therefore given a skewed account of the past. I am all for a revision of textbooks but that should not be done because of political compulsions. The revision should be done in a critical and scientific manner and should be free from all biases. Those with political leanings – right, left or centre should steer clear of anything to do with rewriting, revising and critiquing text books. There is too much partisan politics in this country today which has seeped into every aspect of public life and is doing immense harm to the country.
As far as Meghalaya is concerned, students in schools following the MBOSE syllabi are in for a very bad time. The text books that are supposed to adopt the CBSE syllabus are still not ready and there is a general pandemonium about how the students are going to manage to learn all that needs to be learnt in such a short time. Teachers too are nonplussed but as is the normal state of affairs in Meghalaya, the parents and teachers are all sworn to silence. Elsewhere the parents would have held the government to account or gone to court on the matter. Instead, quite a good number of parents have shifted their children to Guwahati and those that can afford have shifted them to Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and elsewhere.
Managing the Education Department requires a breadth of knowledge and understanding that ordinary minds cannot grasp. The Chief Minister of Meghalaya would have been the best person to deal with Education but as usual in Meghalaya no minister wants to touch the Education portfolio with a barge pole. It is always dumped on the most unsuspecting scapegoat.
And just for public knowledge pray what has the State Education Commission been doing so far? What have been its most perspicacious recommendations till date? Don’t we have the right to know? So please make the recommendations of the Commission public so that all the teachers and parents know where they are wading into and to make informed decisions.


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