The chickens are coming home to roost quite fast. The Central University Entrance Test, or CUET – to be used as a single window for admission to undergraduate programmes – will kill the school system quicker than thought of. Registrations for the examination opened in early April and closed on the last day of May. The examination is scheduled to be from July 15 to August 18 and around 10 lakh students have registered for it.
First, that the CUET “has hammered the last nail into the coffin of board examinations by making them of no relevance at all”. Second, that there will be pressure to get rid of long-form learning and examinations, and focus only on multiple choice-type questions that the CUET proposes to use.
Lastly, that the CUET is a humongous business opportunity for the coaching industry, which will sink its teeth into even more parts of the school education that were hitherto untouched by it. This will lead to the usual inequity that poorer students face when accessing coaching classes.
All these observations have since been validated.
In a statement, Kumar had then rejected apprehensions that theCUET would make board exams irrelevant. According to the report, he also said that “the exam will simply not require any coaching so there is no question of it giving a push to coaching culture”.
We have no idea on what basis this assurance was given when all experience – with respect to each and every entrance examination – shows that coaching classes coach for any and everything. A Financial Express report now says that, “according to the ed-tech players, CUET seems to become one of the greatest markets in the educational service providing sectors”.
A simple internet search for “CUET coaching” shows how much online and offline coaching is already available, ranging from small centres to big players such as Aakash and Unacademy.
Unsurprisingly, a Delhi University-affiliated college, Ramanaujan College, even set up a coaching class for CUET. It was unmindful of the conflict of interest since the marks of the examination for which it is coaching students will be used for admission into their own college. The college retracted when faced with a severe backlash. Ostensibly, the college wanted to provide affordable coaching – Rs 12,000 for the course – compared to private players.
Indeed, the concerns regarding the affordability of CUET coaching are similar to those raised over JEE, or the Joint Entrance Examination for engineering and NEET, or the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for medical courses.
The numerous problems range from the fact that these entrance examinations put students from rural areas at a disadvantage and thus such groups find low representation in the admitted cohorts. Also, additional costs will prove to be detrimental for low-income families who might be forced to opt out of the admission process altogether. This also hurts girls students because of the traditional reluctance of many parents to educate daughters in comparison to sons. So much for inclusivity.
The CUET has also again brought into focus the “dummy school”. Such a school has been defined accurately by the coaching classes themselves: “Dummy schools, also known as Non-Attending Schools is a school where students are admitted to the same way as regular schools but they don’t have to attend regular school classes so that they can focus more on their JEE/NEET exam preparation.”
Worried school principals are reporting that top-performing students have applied for withdrawal from regular schools so that they can enroll in dummy schools. The parents “explained they wanted their children to focus on the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), whose introduction as the sole avenue for undergraduate admission to central universities has reduced the significance of the Class XII board exams”.
What has been happening so far to JEE and NEET aspirants is now happening, at a larger scale, for CUET aspirants as well. The system is being hollowed out from the inside, as more and more schools fall into some kind of marriage with coaching classes.
Some political reactions to the CUET idea are worth noting. The Tamil Nadu government wrote in its appeal to the Union government that, “there is no doubt that this CUET, like NEET, will sideline the diverse school education systems across the country, grossly undermine the relevance of overall development-oriented long-form learning in schools and make students rely upon coaching centers for improving their entrance examinations scores”.
Tamil Nadu’s reluctance to accept an admission system that uses a single central examination based on a central syllabus is based on real-life experiences, as captured by the data collated by the Rajan committee, which was set up to study the effect of NEET on disadvantaged students. The findings clearly point to how it excludes students of the state, i.e. local/ regional/ state talent who are willing to work within the state.
It is also becoming increasingly evident that market forces will now dictate how schools evolve to tackle the CUET. Parents are openly suggesting that practicals and internal assessments which use written examinations in schools are useless because they do not help in cracking the CUET, which is based on multiple choice questions. Therefore, these should be removed. This logic recommends that schools should evolve into gigantic, CUET coaching factories themselves.
Instead of being counted as the centres for a proper, holistic education, schools will be transformed into the very beast they were supposed to slay. This is the beginning of the end of basic communication – reading, writing – broad analytical skills and engagement with complex concepts. Ironic indeed, considering that the objectives of the New Education Policy focus on the inculcation of these very skills.
We do not have to remain in the CUET prison. It is never too late to attack the root of the problem – school education and board examinations require reform, not the admission system. Cosmetic tinkering, an abundance of hype about “historic reforms” and an inability to face ground realities will only defer the attempts to cure the disease to after it has become much worse.
None of the lofty goals put out by education policy makers are actually being reached via the CUET. The opposite is happening. There comes a time when it is no longer possible to pretend to solve a problem by going around it. That time is now. But is anyone listening?
Anurag Mehra teaches engineering and policy at IIT Bombay. His policy focus is on exploring the interface between technology, culture and politics.