The problem with entrance examinations in India

The problem with entrance examinations in India
Highlights

Recently, the government announced the setting up of the National Testing Agency NTA and a change in the structure of the three monster examinations that decide the future of lakhs of students and teachers in the country every year That sounds like a good step to me for a host of reasons

Recently, the government announced the setting up of the National Testing Agency (NTA) and a change in the structure of the three monster examinations that decide the future of lakhs of students and teachers in the country every year. That sounds like a good step to me for a host of reasons.

One, some kind of testing agency is desperately needed for sure. I suspect the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) has been running these tests since there was no one else to do it till now. The board that has been conducting these tests already has plenty on its plate -- paper leaks, cheating scandals, a stupidly onerous and outdated syllabus -- most of which it is struggling to fix. A massive reform of the CBSE is also on the cards if newspaper reports are to be believed. So let the CBSE be a bit free and focus on what it needs do.

Two, from a single day make or break and do or die situation, the new proposal will lower the pressure a bit by allowing students to take the examination twice in the year, taking the best of the two scores (so if you don’t perform on one day due to any reason, you can repeat the exam) and offering more days on which the exam is held. Exams will be fully online so less chances of leaks and cheating. All this should bring in more flexibility, less stress and hopefully, a more transparent process.

Above all, it should mean lower loss of young lives -- the biggest tragedy that we have created thanks to our strange obsession with the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) and other such tests. But even as these steps are welcome, this is a bit like fixing the engine while the chassis remains faulty. The real issue with the entrance system is the examination itself. The JEE, NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) or NET (National Eligibility Test) should be reduced to a score that counts towards admission into the government and private medical and engineering colleges.

It should not be the single deciding factor. I have been delving into the issue for some time now and asked many experts why the government refuses to allow institutions to design their own entrance criteria. The fundamental issue, experts say, is the lack of trust based on years of experience. As is often the case with Indian institutions, they expect institutions to favour students, take money under the table for seats and grant admission based on criteria other than merit. Despite being a patriot, I am convinced that India is truly a nation of cheats. So I can’t blame the government here.

Trusting anyone seems a bit naïve in today’s scenario -- what with India even making global headlines with photographs of ingenuous cheating methods adopted across states. Indian ingenuity seems at its peak when devising new and innovative cheating methods. So, faced with lack of trust on the one hand and the mafias that operate against weakening the stranglehold of the JEE and other such examinations on the other, what should the authorities do? I vote we draw up a list of those who we can trust and allow them to treat the entrance examination result like a score, one of the inputs that goes into final selection. We have done this with the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) and a clutch of other medical colleges. Let’s expand the list of trusted institutions.

Let me add here quickly that this list needs to be a bit broader than the six we have decided to designate as institutions of eminence, something that seems quite absurd to me and a matter that needs a separate column. It appears 113 institutes applied but only six have been shortlisted. And for the rest? For the hundreds of medical and engineering colleges across the country -- several of the private colleges charge around Rs 22,00,000 to 25,00,000 a year for a year of study -- let there be at least three firmly defined criteria including the 10th and 12th board results.

The entrance test score and perhaps a third criteria that can be used to assess and make a final selection instead of basing it all on the JEE or NEET. As with everything else, let’s set up a committee to identify the third elusive criteria. And thwack it hard if it meets for months, deliberates no end and then comes up with as little as the institution of eminence committee have managed to do so far. Committees, too, need to up the ante.

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