Education
The National Education Policy draft says the proposal is an attempt to eliminate the stress of students, who write separate entrance tests.
Image for representation/PTI

If things go as planned, students completing their class 12 must write an entrance test to get admitted to any undergraduate course of study in colleges in India. Many of these state universities at present admit students based on the marks they obtained in class 12. A draft of the National Education Policy (NEP) that is being submitted to the Union Cabinet has a clause to this effect. 

According to the draft, “The National Testing Agency (NTA) will work to offer high-quality common modular entrance exams multiple times each year in various subjects, from logic, quantitative reasoning, and languages, to more specialized subject exams in the sciences, arts, and vocational subjects. The exams shall test the conceptual understanding and the abilities to apply knowledge, and shall eliminate the need for taking coaching for these exams.  Students will be able to choose the range of subjects that they are interested in having tested, and each university will be able to see each student’s individual subject portfolio, and admit students into their programmes based on individual interests and talents.” It has also been mentioned that these entrance exams will be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) which also conducts the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), which is held for medicine, dental and other such courses. 

“...The high quality, range, and flexibility of the NTA testing services will enable most universities to use these common entrance exams - rather than having 100’s of universities each devising their own exams - thereby drastically reducing the burden on students, universities and colleges, and the entire education system,” the document adds. 

Though a specific timeline has not been mentioned for the enforcement of this plan and the document is yet to be adopted, the possibility of having more entrance tests for admitting students into undergraduate programs in universities across India has evoked sharp responses from various quarters against the plan. For some in Tamil Nadu, it is reminiscent of NEET and their stance against it due to the inherent disadvantages the medical entrance test poses to students from underprivileged sections of the society. 

S Arumainathan, President of the Tamil Nadu Students-Parents Welfare Association, says that off late, education has become all about writing tests and this has an adverse effect on the mental state of the students. “They are always in a mode where they are awaiting tests. How will they be able to study and move ahead in their career and lives?” he asks. 

According to the data published by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the national regulatory body for universities, India has 400 state universities and 48 central universities as in July 2019. These do not include institutions of national importance like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or National Institute of Technology (NIT).

‘May encourage school dropouts’ 

Elaborating on one of the major stumbling points in the proposed idea, Arumainathan said that the move could encourage students to drop out of schools. “Not everybody will be able to afford specialised coaching for these kind of entrance tests. We are witnessing this trend for NEET as well,” he said. 

The Tamil Nadu government had recently submitted data to the Madras HC that only 2.1% of the total number of students admitted into government and self-financing medical colleges in the state in 2019 have passed NEET without undergoing coaching in private coaching centres. The High Court had also stated that NEET had disadvantaged poor students and had treated ‘unequals as equals’. 

Arumainathan said that because of this inherent need to undergo private coaching which is mostly expensive, parents who cannot afford to pay the amount will send their children to work and not to study further. “It is only logical to admit students to a particular course based on the marks obtained by them in that particular subjects in class 12,” he added. 

Dr Ezhilan Naganathan, a doctor and a social activist who has been vocal critic of NEET, voiced a similar fear. He argued that if entrance tests are made mandatory for students to get into any course in the country, they will start skipping classes in school. 

“If they bring entrance tests for every course, do you think students will pay attention to school education? They will skip schools and go to tuition centres and coaching institutes. How will students respect school teachers or school education if the focus is on entrance exams. You cannot blame the students because for them, the entrance tests are only going to take them to the next level,” he explained. 

‘Against social justice’

Dr Ezhilan said that the introduction of such entrance exams for admitting students to undergraduate courses will sound the death-knell for social justice in the country.  

“This is a multi-layered issue. Children of educated parents usually have all the guidance and inputs necessary in terms of choice of career, courses and colleges. This might not be the same for children whose parents are not educated or are daily wage labourers or working as domestic helps. The system is unequal,” he said, adding that entrance tests in such a diverse society will only be detrimental. 

“With such background, these entrance tests will act as a filtration process by which only children from affluent and privileged backgrounds can even dream of becoming graduates,” he pointed out. 

Centre needs to emulate TN model

Describing how Tamil Nadu had put affirmative action as priority and given opportunity for those from the oppressed strata of the society to get education, Dr Ezhilan said, “In a country that is as pluralistic as India, isn't it fair for the Centre to take example of states which has run the education system successfully and replicate it? Tamil Nadu can be taken as a prototype for putting affirmative action in place and uplifting people from socially backward sections.”

Tamil Nadu has since the mid-1990s had 69% reservation for students from the Backward, Other Backward, Most Backward Communities and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He also said that because of this initiative by Tamil Nadu, the state can boast of having at least graduates from all communities and social classes. “Because of our open education policy in Tamil Nadu, we have made a lot of graduates, who are getting opportunities to improve their lives. When social improvement happens, economic improvement follows,” he pointed out.