NEET vs CET, CBSE vs Maharashtra Board: We’re picking the wrong battles

The President has just signed the ordinance, and so the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) is not going to be held this year, after all. As we postpone the debate by one year – on the merits and demerits of NEET vs CETs or whether NEET is the panacea for improving medical education, there is a more fundamental problem that we need to grapple with.

Much of the debate about NEET centred around the fact that it would be held as per the NCERT syllabus followed by the CBSE board, and would thus give an unfair advantage to CBSE students over Maharashtra and other state board students. The results of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) are out. The CBSE class XII topper this year scored a whopping 99.40 percent. And that is not the highest ever – a Delhi boy scored a jaw-dropping 99.60 percent in 2014.

Forget about the Maharashtra board students (who in their own board are known to score no less than the high nineties), just about anybody would be scared stiff if they were to compete in an entrance test against these seemingly flawless students.

But life in professional courses is not easy even for these geniuses. There is a huge gulf between the board exams and the entrance tests on the one hand, and curricula of the professional courses on the other.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Students have traditionally achieved near-perfect grades in subjects like mathematics, physics or chemistry. But now, even languages are throwing up perfect or near-perfect scholars. The dictum in earlier times was that even a Shakespeare would not be able to score a perfect hundred in English. But now we have a Shakespeare in almost every school.

Schools, and more than schools, the more popular coaching classes, focus only on ‘cracking’ examinations. They have no interest in imparting knowledge or promoting wisdom. There is hardly any emphasis on comprehending concepts and developing original thinking. Lateral thinking, which is the bedrock of creativity and innovation, is conspicuously absent from our education system. And no amount of learning can dispel ignorance unless it is associated with the right dose of lateral thinking.

As a result, when such superlative students join professional courses, where studies are mostly concept-based, many of them fall flat on their face. Their rote learning does not serve them well anymore; and their examinations that were just the test of their memory once are now diametrically opposite.

One such champion student, who had just enjoyed intense media glare and was declared a ‘super student’, joined a prominent medical school in Mumbai. The first six months were maniacal for her. Those around her - family, friends etc – made her believe that she was some super-being. The problems started with the first semester examination. Cramming was obviously not helping her much. Tests were designed to evaluate grasping of concepts rather than testing her memory. She managed to clear her first year somehow, but started showing signs of depression once she entered second year. She started skipping her lectures, practicals and clinical postings. She became mortally fearful of tests and examinations and started avoiding them. By the time she dragged herself to the final year, she was a complete wreck. She failed her final MBBS examination thrice and subsequently committed suicide.

A precious talent, and more than that a precious life, was lost due to fault lines in our education system. Many professional students are known to suffer from some degree of depression, different personality disorders and multiple psycho-somatic issues. School students as young as fourteen and fifteen are known to suffer from stress induced peptic ulcers.

The story of Kota, coaching hub of IIT and medical entrance, is worse. Kota, in a way, typifies the paradigm shift from all-round schooling to the limited world of coaching that has only one aim i.e. to ‘crack’ the examinations. This district city of Rajasthan has seen 30 suicides of ‘bonded’ students in last one year. Almost 1.5 lakh budding students flock here every year from all over the country paying as much as a lakh in annual fees. Many of them start burning out just a few months into the training, as nearly 18 hours of studies coupled with a lurking sense of inadequacy due to unnerving competitive atmosphere takes its toll. Family expectations and their own self-esteem prevent them from giving up; and in the process leave them physically and emotionally exhausted.

The story is not any different for other streams such as Accountancy, Commerce, Architecture, Law etc.

Education is not the name of a degree or a certificate. Any system that perpetuates such an idea can only produce slaves for job market, not original thinkers, researchers or innovators. As it is, the world is full of educated derelicts, let us not add more to that number.

So, when the whole country goes into a tizzy on whether it should be NEET or CET, and the government of the day is forced to jump in with an ordinance to cool tempers, you know that we have not even begun to understand the problem.

The author is Consulting Surgeon, Mumbai

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Updated Date: May 24, 2016 13:19:10 IST

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