Today Tamil Nadu students are facing a severe deterioration in the quality of education both in terms of teaching standards and learning outcomes.
There has been a lot of hue and cry over National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) in Tamil Nadu. There are protests against NEET by the political parties, fringe groups as well as the students claiming that indeed NEET hurts the cause of social justice which the state has been upholding for decades. The political parties in the state are openly condemning the centre’s dictum of implementing NEET as part of standardising the entrance criteria for medical education in the country. They say that the states should have a greater say in education at all levels and the centre should not force “one-size-fits-all norm” on the students. The political parties, especially the main opposition party DMK, claim it is an assault on the rights of the states and against social justice by the centre. But, contrary to the claims, the idea of NEET germinated from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government era, of which DMK was a part and not by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by BJP.
Originally NEET had been proposed to replace all other existing admission procedures for medical college seats as different states followed different yard sticks for medical admissions which led to lack of transparency. So, the UPA government proposed to do away with the state medical entrance exams. Prior to NEET, the All India Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Entrance (AIPMT) was being conducted by the CBSE for medical and dental courses admission at several medical colleges across the country. In 2012, NEET was conducted for the first time replacing AIPMT, several states, including Tamil Nadu, opposed it. The state governments believed that it was case of clear infringement upon their right to keep education a state subject. Even many private colleges across the country who stand to benefit from various admission processes, opposed to standardise the procedure and they filed petitions in various High Courts, seeking exemption from using the NEET exam as one of the criteria for admissions. Over 100 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against it. Following the objection, the Supreme Court, in a 2013 judgment, held that NEET would deprive state-run universities and medical colleges of their right to admit students as per their own procedures and declared the test unconstitutional. In July 2013, the Supreme Court quashed the NEET proposal citing violation of articles 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30 of the Constitution. This decision was then reversed by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court in April 2016.
The idea of having a standardised examination across the country is to make it a level playing field for the students of the country and prove their merit. A closer look at the ongoing tussle over NEET in Tamil Nadu is by and large instigated by political parties with vested interests. After all NEET is done on the similar basis on which the Union Public Service Commission Exams (UPSC) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission into various engineering colleges are being conducted. Moreover, the admissions to higher education in Tamil Nadu have been focused on quantity over quality. That is why when a standardised common medical entrance exam across the country is accepted by most of the states in the country, Tamil Nadu continue to protest against it.
Scrapping of TNPCEE
The reason why when other states are not protesting as much as in Tamil Nadu is because NEET does not disturb the basis of their social fabric. In Tamil Nadu, political parties claim it does. Because, Tamil Nadu is the only state in the country providing 69 per cent quota in employment and educational institutions in the State, much higher than the stipulated 50% reservation quota adopted in other states.
Till 2005, students aspiring to study in the engineering and medical Colleges in Tamil Nadu have to score high marks in the Plus Two examinations as well as in the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examination (TNPCEE). The entrance was conducted by Anna University on behalf of the Government of Tamil Nadu. This dual ranking resulted in students lining up for private coaching. With TNPCEE in vogue, several private coaching classes sprang up across in the cities of Tamil Nadu and parents were only eager to spend for such coaching classes which help their wards to gain an edge in getting admitted to professional courses.
But the scenario was different in rural areas as they lack the private coaching infrastructure that really added value to the urban students. As a result, even a slight improvement in studies helped the urban students to score higher. Because of this discrimination, the government of Tamil Nadu decided to scrap the TNPCEE from the academic year 2006-07 and the admissions to the professional courses were made solely based on 12th marks.
Even then there was a catch which ultimately left the rural students lose out. Some schools in urban areas of Tamil Nadu specially focused on Plus Two examinations. For two years, these schools ensured the rote learning is fed to the students The students were forced to go through grilling sessions from “Plus One” onwards with specialized coaching and series of model examinations to score very high marks in the Plus Two public exams. As a result student passing out from these schools scored high marks in the school final exams and comfortably secured in admission in the professional colleges of their choice which drastically affected the students from rural schools.
CBSE Vs State Board Students
From 2006 to 2016, The admission to government institutions in Tamil Nadu were based on marks secured in “Plus Two” examinations, whereas admission for the central government institutions such as IITs and in All India Quota (AIQ) of medical colleges were based on entrance tests. So there was a set pattern existed as the admission to the state government institutions both medical and engineering colleges were dominated by the state board students and the CBSE students used to dominate the admissions to the central government institutions. So the students of the State board mostly focused on scoring high in the 12th final exams, to get the maximum marks and the students of Tamil Nadu CBSE focused on JEE and other All India exams such as AIPMT/NEET.
Tamil Nadu was exempted from the NEET in 2016 and the government was hopeful to repeat the act in 2017 also. Tamil Nadu government argued that NEET favours CBSE students over state board students and makes it tough for students from rural areas to compete with the CBSE or national board students. But, despite hopes and confusions for well over three months, the NEET exemption did not materialise in 2017 and finally the students had to take the exams. As a compromise, the Tamil Nadu government reserved 85% of the seats to state board students in medical admissions. The Madras high court dismissed the government order for reservation for state board students. Subsequently, the state government tried to promulgate an ordinance seeking an exemption from the NEET for a year but that also did not bear the fruit as the centre refused to support the ordinance. Finally, the Supreme Court stated that admissions should be made only based on the NEET.
With the implementation of NEET, even for the state quota of the remaining 85% of seats other than AIQ, the students are forced to take the qualifying examination. Under such scenario assuming that the top students will go through AIQ for their admission, majority of the remaining seats will be secured by the state CBSE students which will be a direct loss to the state board students.
NEET: Discrimination or Better System
The main crux of the anti-NEET activists is that NEET would affect the interest of rural students in pursuing medical courses. But, NEET is not only for Tamil Nadu and other states who have not objected to NEET are also having sizable rural students. Moreover, with Tamil Nadu having one of the largest numbers of students from the government schools appearing for the plus 2 examinations in the country, it is a sad part that only a minuscule number of them get into medical colleges each year. Statistics reveal that in the last eight years, between 2009 and 2016, the total number of students admitted in the medical colleges in Tamil Nadu is 29,525. Out of which barely 213 students, hardly 1%, studied in the government run schools were admitted in the government run medical colleges in Tamil Nadu and another 63 students were admitted in the private medical colleges in the state. In 2017, the first year that admission was based on the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and not on class 12 board exam marks, only five students from government schools qualified for admission to medical colleges in Tamil Nadu. Only two of the students got admission to the more reputable and low-fee government-run colleges.
According to a government data obtained under the Right to Information Act that in the 10 years from 2006 to 2016 – when admissions were based on board exam marks – government schools accounted for 0.7% of admissions to government-run medical colleges and 1.1% to private medical colleges in the state. Of the 29,925 students admitted to 21 state-run medical colleges in these 10 years, 213 were from government schools. Of the 6,132 admitted to 16 private medical colleges, 65 were from government schools. Chennai’s three highly regarded government medical colleges – Madras, Kilpauk and Stanley – on average admitted only one or two students from government schools every year, never exceeding 1% of total student admissions.
The scenario presents a grim picture on the quality of education provided at the government run schools of Tamil Nadu. Actually there has been no outrage about the meagre representation of government school/rural school students in the admissions paradigm before NEET from the political parties with the vested interests? Further, the main bone of contention over NEET is that the CBSE students have an unfair advantage because of their syllabus. The CBSE students are better equipped to handle exams like NEET because of the comprehensive syllabus being adopted by CBSE. The political parties fail to note the prevailing low standards of the state’s education and are more worried that the state Board students are losing out the seats to CBSE students. Rather than taking adequate steps to improve the education standard, the political parties are insisting on status quo even if the standard of education is low. Is it not the time to raise the bar and update the syllabus in Tamil Nadu?
Given the quality of state education, argument of the anti-NEET activists that the marks scored in Plus Two examinations stands testimony to the “merit” is questionable. Take for example the present status of Namakkal based “Broiler Schools”, known for churning out “ intelligent” boys and girls with excellent academic credentials of scoring very high marks in state board Plus two examinations . These schools lured the parents with an assurance of admission for their wards in medical or an engineering college in government institutions. The students were treated like “robots’ without any opportunity to socialise. For two years, what they did was train the students forcibly in rote learning techniques without any care for analytical skills or critical evaluation. With 365 days of continuous preparation with loads of tests and assessments, many of them did well in the board examinations and fulfilled their parents’ hopes of entering in to medical colleges.
In 2016, the Namakkal district had put 957 students into medical seats, but this in 2017 they only managed 109 seats. Because, these students, until last year, were able to secure a large number of admissions on the basis of their “good show” in Plus Two examinations. Whereas this year, under NEET, there is a marked increase in the number of students from other districts who have bagged the medical seats. Surely, is NEET not a fairer system than before?
Besides, the fringe elements in Tamil Nadu are trying to cash in on the anti-NEET emotions and continue to protest against NEET stating that it hurts the cause of social justice. They claim that students belonging to ‘forward’ castes secure more seats at the cost of ‘backward’ castes. But the statistics reveal otherwise. The total number of seats in Tamil Nadu Government Medical Colleges in 2017-18 is 2,652 and out of these the so-called “Forward Caste” students are allowed to compete within 823 seats which fall under “Open Category”.
The truth is that only 193 seats out of 823 seats secured under NEET-based admissions in 2017 were taken by ‘forward’ castes. Of the remaining seats, 491 seats were secured by backward castes, 114 seats by most backward castes and 25 seats by scheduled castes. Further, it must be noted that in Tamil Nadu the ‘Open Category’ is truly open as the even students entitled to reservations under BC, MBC and SC categories first compete in the ‘Open Category’ pool and if they don’t succeed then compete for their reserved category pools and ensure they get their seats. While the other groups are also allowed to compete both under their own quota as well as the “Open Category” seats, the “Forward Caste” students are deprived of such privilege.
Today Tamil Nadu students are facing a severe deterioration in the quality of education both in terms of teaching standards and learning outcomes. Tamil Nadu is in an enigmatic situation that the state board syllabus has not been updated for the past 12 years. It is the successive governments that have betrayed the students of Tamil Nadu by maintaining the same syllabus over the years and also ostensibly failed to improve the standard of education across Tamil Nadu’s schools.
Since the government diluted the syllabus severely, major chunk of students usually end up scoring unusually high marks. Scoring 200/200 in a language paper or a biology paper was unheard of until a decade back. But, with Tamil Nadu board being extremely liberal in awarding marks to its students, many end up scoring very high marks in board examinations but in reality many of students lack the basic proficiency in fundamental subjects.
Statistics across the country reveal that Tamil Nadu students are considerably behind every other state in the overall quality of education. The performance of Tamil Nadu students in going to institutions of higher learning reflects the state of education in Tamil Nadu. The fact remains that by keeping the marks scored in Plus Two examinations as the main criteria, the government has used the system as a money making exercise for the educational institutes.
By all means both the government and political ecosystem has been responsible for allowing the educational system to continuously deteriorate over the years. On the whole continue to seek exemption for NEET is not a step towards providing social justice as claimed by the political parties in Tamil Nadu. In reality it would be a retrograde step and will only pave the way further degrading the quality of education being offered in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, it tantamount to underestimating the ability of the students from Tamil Nadu.
NEET Impact: Quality is the key
Surely any society needs a generation of competent doctors. Unless, we have a good foundation, how can we develop good doctors? NEET assures the right foundation for a promising career. It is not time that we should start thinking about maintaining quality rather than only focusing on quantity. NEET has been introduced with a careful thought to identify the desired level of students. Certainly, NEET will act as a sieve to identify students with the right aptitude for the medical profession.
Earlier, several private universities and deemed universities were using different scales to admit students on their own whims and fancies. By bringing all institutions under one umbrella and the ambit of common and centralised counselling, the practice of capitation has been done away with to some extent. Besides, NEET has mitigated the malpractices existing in our country in admitting students to medical colleges. NEET is only doing students good, as it has drastically reduced “paid seats” in medical education across the country thereby ending the corruption in private medical colleges to an extent.
Despite the noise made against NEET, the students from Tamil Nadu have performed reasonably well in comparison with the national average. With the right coaching and the ability to attune the students to the NEET format, the students from Tamil Nadu can prove their mettle on par with the rest of the bright students across the country. It is highly encouraging to note that finally, the Tamil Nadu government has planned to open 412 coaching centres across the state to train students for NEET. The government has also planned to rope in special resource persons from Rajasthan, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh to coach students through video-conferencing during week-ends.
Surely, NEET is the way forward for sustaining quality medical education in the country.