Why we need to take a critical look at the National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test (NEET)
There has been much debate about the relevance of and the need to scrap the NEET.
The National Testing Agency (NTA), which comes under the Ministry of Education, conducts the National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test 2022 (NEET 2022) for admission to MBBS, BDS and other medical courses. The website (https://neet.nta.nic.in/) states that the test’s main objective is to assess the competency of candidates for admission to premier higher education institutions. The terms “competency of the candidates” and “premier higher education institutions” need to be looked at critically and discussed in detail.
There has been much debate about the relevance of and the need to scrap the NEET. Educationists and activists maintain that the test promotes mediocrity in medical education and deserving candidates do not get seats in medical colleges. Thus, the dreams of many meritorious candidates becoming doctors scattered.
It is quite unfortunate that no serious or genuine discussion has been initiated by the NTA on this topic. Now and then, politicians raise the issue but do not follow it up. A year ago, the Tamil Nadu government passed a bill to scrap the NEET and said students would be admitted to the MBBS course on the basis of the Class 12 marks. A few other governments also raised their voice against the qualifying exam and the need to review it. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education is not an autonomous body and major decisions are not taken by experts and educationists.
Equality and social justice
Why is NEET against the principle of equality and social justice? It favours those who have money and not those who have merit. Here is an example. In the 2021 NEET exam, the 50th percentile score was 138 and the 40th percentile (qualifying score for OBC) was 108. But, in 2022, the 50th percentile is 117 and the 40th is 93. This means that a candidate with a 93+ score qualifies for admission to a medical college. It will be difficult for a student with 500+ to get admission to a government medical college but a candidate with a two-digit score can buy a medical seat if he has the money that is demanded by medical edupreneur. Is this what the NTA means by “competency of candidates”? IS it not against the principle of social justice?
Almost all toppers and rank holders would have undergone years of coaching — for which they would have spent lakhs of rupees — to crack the NEET. This implies that only the rich can afford the coaching. A few months ago, in Indore, I interacted with some candidates who had taken a break after Class 12 to attend a pre-medical preparatory course for a year. Advertisements from coaching institutes indicate that it is necessary to go to coaching centres to crack the exam. Economically poor aspirants who cannot spend money on pre-medical preparatory courses are not likely to perform well in the qualifying exam. Is this not against the principle of equality?
Another factor is that the qualifying exam favours aspirants who have studied in schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), as the syllabus of NEET is based on that of this board. Aspirants from various State Board schools are at a great disadvantage.
What will be the impact of this on society? The fact is that aA candidate with a NEET score of 117+ who can buy a medical seat will only dream of getting that amount back after his/her studies. PG seats too can be bought? Will these doctors be committed to their profession? We hear of doctors who have excelled in their field and treat patients with care and concern. Will we be able to expect this from doctors who bought their medical degrees from so-called ‘premier higher education institutions’?
Privatisation of medical education has resulted in commercialisation, which, in turn, has led to a decline in the quality of medical education. Medicine was once a noble profession but has now become a business. Is it possible to liberate medical education from medupreneurs?
Producing a large number of mediocre doctors through private medical colleges and universities is not an achievement. Producing doctors with passion to treat patients with human dignity, care and concern is the need of the hour. NEET can produce doctors who will be more money-minded than service-oriented.
The ‘0ne-nation, one-exam system does not work in a vast country like India with numerous diversities. Centralisation of the selection process for colleges run by state governments will have a negative impact. It is high time educationists and activists across the country realised the need to review the relevance of NEET and raised their voice to reform the system.
Vijay GarG Retired Principal Educational Columnist Malout Punjab