The Big Story: Undermining autonomy
Protests have erupted across Tamil Nadu since Friday, after a 17-year-old girl in Ariyalur named Anitha committed suicide, ostensibly because she failed to secure a medical seat despite scoring close to 98% in her higher secondary school examinations. Days before her death, Anitha, a Dalit student, had joined a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET, the common medical entrance examination against which students have now taken to the streets. But the petition asking for Tamil Nadu to be exempted from NEET was rejected.
The question haunting Tamil Nadu is this: How did a student who obtained such high scores in the state board examinations fail to secure a medical seat to pursue her dreams? Anitha’s socio-economic background has added to the sheer tragedy of the incident. Her father is a daily-wage labourer and she helped the family out by selling vegetables in the local market.
Tamil Nadu is perhaps the only state in the country that continues to oppose NEET. The reasons are not difficult to understand. With a Gross Enrollment Ratio of over 43%, which is much higher than the national average of 24%, the state boasts of a higher education infrastructure that has access as its primary agenda. This attempt to open up higher education to all residents prompted Tamil Nadu to abolish entrance examinations to medical and technical education institutions in 2005.
However, the Centre’s attempt to homogenise the education structure across the country is robbing Tamil Nadu of its uniqueness. From being a pioneer in the education sector, the state is now being accused of promoting mediocrity through its state board syllabus, which some in the Bharatiya Janata Party have claimed is not on par with the high standards of the Central Board of Secondary Education’s syllabus. The CBSE conducts NEET. Had education training in Tamil Nadu been better, critics argue, there would be no reason for students like Anitha to resist NEET.
This simplistic argument ignores the multi-layered problems in a centralised system like NEET. Thousands of students like Anitha were asked to prepare for an entrance examination based on CBSE syllabus at short notice this year. Students in rural areas, especially those from marginal backgrounds, cannot afford costly coaching classes, putting them at a disadvantage. NEET has essentially rendered irrelevant the state board syllabus as there is no value attached to a student’s performance in class 12 examinations. Before 2005, the eligibility examination Tamil Nadu conducted for medical seats had a formula where both class 12 marks and the entrance scores were balanced to arrive at the cut-off marks. This kind of an arrangement has been lacking in NEET, which is likely to turn into a IIT-JEE type examination that requires enormous resources to crack.
In a way, examinations like NEET are an attempt to move towards a single board set up for the entire country, whereby the Centre becomes the only source of school education syllabus, a potent tool to shape young minds. This is a serious erosion of the ability of states to frame their own policies for education, a subject in the concurrent list in the Constitution.
The Big Scroll
- Did NEET, in the garb of promoting merit, end up killing Anitha? Shreya Roy Chowdhury writes on the problems in the medical entrance examination.
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“In past elections, the Sangh Parivar’s micro-level mobilisers, called panna pramukhs, are said to have played a key role in the BJP’s victory in Gujarat, a state the party has ruled uninterrupted since 1998.
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