NEET row: We need to focus on what is good for the country's health

In the current NEET fiasco, an impression has been created that NEET is the panacea for India's current health problem. I want to dispel this notion. Let's try and answer one basic question: What is the objective of the country's health care system today ?
1. Producing good quality doctors.
2. Penetration of the health care even in remotest part of country.

Will the NEET in the current form solve this basic problem?

When the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on compulsion of NEET for everyone on 9 May, what was the immediate effect? Full page advertisements of various coaching classes crowding all the newspapers on the very next day.

So will NEET in this format cause some unforeseen problems?

The current NEET chaos is mainly because of decision wapsi which we have seen first from the Supreme Court (overturning its 2013 judgement), then from the Centre—by initially agreeing to conduct NEET from the current year, only to backtrack later—and issuance of an ordinance contradicting its earlier stand. This ordinance at least has given a reprieve to lakhs of already stressed hapless students.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The breathing time of one year has provided us an opportunity to fine tune the implementation of NEET and avoid repeated U-turns.

The purpose of any entrance exam is to screen the candidate’s basic education and to examine his or her suitability to undertake a particular professional course. So this screening exam should have a level playing field for all the participants who would get an equal opportunity in terms of syllabus, language and time for preparation. Immediate implementation of NEET in current year denied this equal opportunity to students in different parts of country violating the basic principle of fairness.

I want to challenge the view which projects NEET as proposed in the current format as the only exam which is going to produce good doctors.

NEET with CBSE syllabus which predominantly exists in north Indian states is different from the syllabi of many west and south Indian states. There is no proof that the CBSE syllabus is producing better doctors when compared with state syllabi as suggested by some educational pundits and social organisations (NGOs).

Take the example of Maharashtra, where the CBSE syllabus is taught in only 20% of educational institutes, that too mainly in the metropolitan areas. Given this scenario, a hasty implementation of NEET is suddenly going to increase the demand of coaching classes like Kota which may be inaccessible to many students in rural areas on account of logistical issues or financial constraints, putting them at immediate disadvantage.

The CET conducted by the state has proven time and again that even without coaching classes, many underprivileged students do become good doctors. The fear of coaching classes dominating the scene seems real if a parallel is drawn with IIT entrance exam.

How many candidates without training in institutes like the one in Kota are able to clear IIT entrance exam on their own? In fact, to relieve the students from the clutches of coaching classes, there was a move a couple of years ago to give weightage to the HSC exam marks while getting admission in IIT. However, this was not pursued later. IITians are not expected to go to villages. Should one expect city-educated would-be doctor, who have got their training in coaching classes, to practice in remote areas?

I fear NEET in the current format might go the IIT way, judging by the response of coaching classes to the SC verdict and the Centre's ordinance. An insistence on NEET in its current format with unproven results is likely to backfire later.

My solution to the current problem is immediate implementation of MEET (MBBS Exit cum Entrance Test for PG exam) for all final year MBBS students in the country. This will ensure that the quality of doctors produced by the government or private medical colleges at the exit level maintains minimum standards. Simultaneous efforts should be undertaken to standardise curricula all over the country right from secondary school.

Till such time comes, the current system of state conducted CETs and AIPMT may be continued with the rider that all private medical colleges and deemed institutes admission should be through particular state CETs.

A single entrance exam all over country is meant to reduce the student burden. But if it is implemented without a proper thought process, it will benefit urban youth and coaching classes, but will push back rural healthcare by many years.

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Updated Date: May 24, 2016 11:49:28 IST

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