The state of Tamil Nadu has been deterred by setbacks ever since CBSE made NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) a compulsory entrance examination for medical aspirants in the country. While TN students were largely unprepared for the exams in 2017, 2018 came with its own set of challenges, with CBSE muddling up the exam centre allocations for applicants from the state.
Therefore, it was not surprising that the state could muster only a poor 39.6% pass percentage. Of the 1,14,602 Tamil Nadu candidates who appeared for NEET 2018, only 45,336 passed. Last year, 83,859 students appeared of which only 32,570 passed.
These numbers may not be encouraging but the efforts by a small group of professors from New College in Chennai, along with a few of their friends, to help more aspirants prepare better for NEET is heartening.
Professor Ansar of Creating Hands shares that the group was formed in 2015 during the Chennai floods and has continued functioning since.
‚ÄúWe are not an NGO, just a few likeminded people coming together to help more people. Last year, even when no one thought that NEET exams would take place, we spread the word through WhatsApp and Facebook and took in 120 students from economically weaker sections of the society,‚ÄĚ he begins.
These 120 students ‚Äď 80 girls and 40 boys ‚Äď were selected from across the state to be coached in Chennai.
‚ÄúA friend offered his place near Aamir Mahal and that is where the classes took place. Students from Kanyakumari, Velur, Vaniambadi also came for the classes. We also gave free boarding at our college hostel for those who needed it. Few friends opened their houses to accommodate girl students from conservative families,‚ÄĚ says Ansar.
While only 3 students were able to secure government college seats that year, the professor explains that it was a trial for them and helped them understand NEET coaching better.
‚ÄúIn 2016, not many knew what needed to be done. Moreover, none of us from Creating Hands are science professors. I‚Äôm a commerce teacher. While we were able to bring in experienced teachers and provide study materials for free, we still needed to understand more,‚ÄĚ he says.
In 2016, of the 450 students who applied, 120 were shortlisted based on their Class 10 marks. This year, in addition to a screening test, they also interviewed the candidates to make sure they were focussed on pursuing MBBS.
‚ÄúSome students sounded confident when their parents were with them, but when we spoke to them alone, they confided that it was actually their parents who wanted them to take up the exam. Last year, of the 120 who were trained by us, many signed up only because it was for free. This spoils the chance for a student who is passionate,‚ÄĚ says Prof Ansar.
Armed with some experience, the team took in interested students and classes were conducted in two other centres in the state. ‚ÄúA few teachers from other districts were very interested to get on board. So in 2016, we had a small group of students being trained in Thakalai in Kanyakumari and another batch in Pudupettai in Chennai. Classes were conducted every Sunday from 6.30 am to 2.00 pm from August 15 to January 26. We called this the ‚ÄėIndependence to Republic Batch‚Äô,‚ÄĚ he adds with a smile.
A small group of 12 students ‚Äď 8 girls and 4 boys ‚Äď were selected this time to be coached for a full month in Chennai. Study materials and breakfast were provided for free.
‚ÄúFour of these students were from Thakalai, who were staying with their relatives, and the others came from different parts of the city,‚ÄĚ he says.
Professor Ansar goes on to explain that these students come from economically weak families and are mostly first generation learners.
‚ÄúWe made sure all students who were selected deserved a fair chance at the entrance. The main problem that is plaguing our students is lack of facilities,‚ÄĚ he says.
It is apparent that TN students who study in the state board are at a disadvantage when it comes to NEET.
‚ÄúState board syllabus is not on par with CBSE syllabus and the method of education is result-oriented as opposed to concept-oriented in CBSE,‚ÄĚ he explains, adding, ‚ÄúThe only good so far seems to be the Class 11 state board examinations. Schools often skip Class 11 portions which is crucial for Class 12 and subsequently for such entrance examinations. We hope for a change in the coming years.‚ÄĚ
Professor Ansar shares with much joy that all 12 of his students were able to clear NEET this time, with Salman Farsi scoring the highest at 88.7 percentile. The journey for them, however, is far from over.
‚ÄúGiven the kind of family backgrounds these children come from it is hard for them to decide or to even understand what needs to be done. We have planned counselling sessions for them next,‚ÄĚ he says.
Thowfia, the daughter of a courier load man, is one among the 12 students who has cleared NEET 2018. But the 17-year-old has very little idea about what to do next. Even though she has scored only 68 percentile, the reservation quota might give her a better chance, says Professor Ansar.
‚ÄúMost often, these students think they‚Äôve scored very less and do not try any further. Without guidance, they won‚Äôt know how to fill the application forms either,‚ÄĚ he adds.
Professor Ansar further explains that their idea is to not compete with reputed centres who offer better coaching for such entrance examinations but to make available a level playing field for students from poorer sections of society who harbour great dreams.
‚ÄúThese students lack access to good facilities. The education system that is currently in place leaves them at a disadvantage,‚ÄĚ he rues, adding, ‚ÄúIn our small group of 12 students, everyone matters. We‚Äôll have at least 9 doctors.‚ÄĚ
The group has rented a small space in Royapettah and hopes to continue providing entrance coaching for free.
‚ÄúMore teachers have expressed interest to do this in their districts. We‚Äôve been getting more requests now. This looks like a positive development. Our hope is to make sure we don‚Äôt have one more Anita or Pradeepa,‚ÄĚ he concludes.
Creating Hands welcomes patrons. Those wishing to contribute can reach out to Professor Ansar at 87544 03752.