Back To The Blackboard

Acting out of sheer pique cannot be the ideal response to any crisis. Recent data from Tamil Nadu that became available through the Madras High Court showed a clear link between coaching classes and securing a medical seat. Some have already given in to the temptation of a knee-jerk response and called for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) to be cancelled, shunning the need for a calibrated response to what is undoubtedly a worrisome situation. As per data submitted to the Madras High Court by the government of Tamil Nadu, the bulk of the students who secured MBBS seats in the State in 2019 had taken coaching classes to prepare for the exam. Only 1.6 % of all students who joined the government medical colleges had managed to get a seat without undergoing any preparatory coaching programme. Significantly, even in private medical colleges, only a marginally higher percentage (3.2) had got through without coaching classes. Data also showed that a significant percentage of students in both government (66.2) and private colleges (64.4) had to take multiple attempts at NEET to score a seat. Given that the costs of coaching classes are huge, running into lakhs of rupees, it clearly puts medical education out of the reach of the poorer sections. The prohibitive cost factor has been in Tamil Nadu’s list of arguments against NEET right from the beginning of its spirited opposition to the common entrance test. That it would keep a segment of students out of the race was the point posited by the State, citing the example set by the IIT-Joint Entrance Examination. The State argued that coaching classes would determine entry to courses, and ergo, put out of the race students who were poor, or hailed from rural areas. The question at the root of it all, however, is the quality of education being imparted to students, in urban and rural areas. It is the shortcoming in this sector that makes expensive coaching classes the norm. Independent of students’ performance in the medical entrance test, qualitative surveys, including the Annual Status of Education Report, have revealed sad neglect of a key nation-building function — school education. Ensuring that quality education is imparted at schools by well-trained teachers would obviate the need for coaching outside of classes. NEET, as the equivalent of a quality control test, hopes to choose the best students in a given pool for a career in medicine, remaining value neutral in every other way. While ensuring such benefits of NEET continue to accrue, States should put in place a series of steps that would make learning meaningful, and fun for children, and in the interim, provide free NEET coaching classes to help disadvantaged students make that leap. Indeed, emptying out dirty bathwater periodically is essential, but to throw the baby out too would be disastrous.

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