A Student’s Perspective on NEET
 
On 1st September 2017, Anitha, a young Dalit girl from the remote Kuzhumur village in Tamilnadu committed suicide as she was denied her rightful admission to a medical college. Becoming a medical doctor was her dream. More importantly, it would have lifted her family out of poverty. She was the eldest of the 3 siblings to a daily wage earner. Her success would have boosted the morale of millions of Dalit students. She had received 1176 marks out of 1200 in the examinations conducted by the State Education Board but was still denied admission to her dream medical profession. One can understand the anguish and frustration of a millennial girl, whose forefathers were all the victims of untouchability.
 
Tamilnadu witnessed a huge uproar immediately after the death of Anita and all political parties vowed their support to exempt Tamilnadu from NEET. But, nothing has happened. The educational policy makers, political parties and the rest of civil society seem to wait for the next academic year to raise their voice again.
 
Apart from the political debates on the rights of state governments, the relevance of state education board etc., this is a deep-rooted issue, which has a great impact on the students in particular and the society at large.
 
The major problems caused by a standardised tests like NEET are
 
1. It is disadvantageous to the poorer sections of society who cannot afford private coaching. Coaching Institutes normally charge the equivalent of a medium income household’s annual income to tutor one child. It is simply beyond the reach of more than 95% of the students.
 
2. It gives undue advantage to urban students, as the best faculty and coaching centers are available in cities only.
 
3. Till now, the rural students who got admitted to medical colleges had a tendency to stay in their villages or semi-urban location, catering to the medical needs of the rural population. This will change with the pro-urban NEET selection process. People are unlikely to move from urban locations to rural set-up and in the long run, rural health care will be severely affected.
 
4. In its present form, NEET is skewed towards the CBSE syllabus. Traditionally, CBSE schools have been costlier and fewer in number.
 
5. Education is a State subject as per the constitution and almost all the government schools in the State are run by the State government, following the state education board’s curriculum. Even if the state wants to change the curriculum, it would be a herculean task as lakhs of teachers have to be re-trained.
 
6. Standardised tests are basically meant for rejection of students who cannot cope up with the rigor of a college education. It cannot be the basis for selection, as they do not measure the academic excellence. This is why standardized test scores are only one part of a larger matrix in college admissions abroad. The case of Anita amply proves this. She got 1176 out of 1200 in her Board exams. How could those who got fewer marks than her in the school exams be more qualified to become doctors, while she is declared to be not eligible?
 
In Tamilnadu, NEET is not being seen from a student's perspective. As a student, my perspective on the issue is different.
I believe the most important handicap to rural students is lack qualitative teachers and limited access to study materials. With these two things in place, brilliant students like Anita will conquer all their dreams. To succeed in a standardized test like NEET, students need the resources and someone to guide them in understanding the nuances of an MCQ test.
 
Use of technology is the only way out in such a scenario. The private sector is already adopting technological systems to unify India. Corporates like Amazon and Flipkart have ensured that all reading material is available in even remote parts of the country.
 
No bookshops located in villages or even semi-urban locations would store competitive exam books, due to negligible demand. A huge advantage in Tamilnadu is that even the government schools in villages have at least a few desktop computers for their students. The government should create appropriate e-content, (video lectures by the best teachers, animated lab experiments etc., in the vernacular languages) specifically suited to the NEET examinations and host them in school computers. This may not be sufficient to cater to all the students. But, it will give sufficient access to the students who are really interested in medical courses.
 
 
The second critical component is guidance. Information technology can play a great role in this. The proliferation of cellular phones and the Internet, even in the villages of Tamilnadu, is a great strength to be leveraged by the government. E-guidance is the need of the hour. There is an acute information gap in this area. There are excellent teachers with a deep social conscience in one part of the state and brilliant students with an acute need for guidance. A mobile App or a similar platform which can allow students to enroll and enable the best and willing teachers to interact with them over Skype or WhatsApp calls, would be a game-changer for the students in our rural hinterland.
 
In this aspect, governments have traditionally tried to conduct workshop etc., for the rural teachers, hoping that they would be able to learn well and pass on to students. This approach takes a lot of time and requires every teacher to be efficient and motivated. In reality, it does not happen. Just by connecting people - needy students and willing teachers - the government can phenomenally increase the number of rural students in its medical colleges.
 
The third vital aspect of such MCQ based Standardised tests is ‘Practice’. The more question papers practiced, the higher the success rate. This is one area, where the private coaching centers make a major impact. They generate a large number of question papers and give ample practice to their enrolled students. Here also, technology can play a huge role. As already mentioned, every student in Tamilnadu already has a mobile phone or can afford a mobile phone.
 
The government has a huge number of well-qualified teachers, who can generate huge volumes of question papers. The government has to create a user-friendly mobile App or a website and upload the question papers for the benefit of students. It should be capable of generating random question papers from the pool of questions— subject-wise, topic-wise, the level of difficulty etc., It will enable the rural students to practice for their tests, without any cost. it also gives them the convenience of taking the tests ‘anytime-anywhere’ . This App should also generate analytics for each student so that he can focus on his weak areas and improve.
 
Such a platform will create a paradigm shift in the way our rural brethren approach competitive examinations and generate a huge level of self-confidence. I will contribute to the cause of our rural brethren on the above issues, in whatever little way I could.
 
- J.V.Iniyaal Kannan