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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 July 2024

Test case: Editorial on the cancellation of UGC-NET and political administration’s attitude to education

Playing with education with an urge to control its content and form seems to be enraging young people in a country seething with the unemployed. This is a wastage of India’s demographic dividend

The Editorial Board Published 24.06.24, 07:39 AM
University Grants Commission

University Grants Commission File Photo

Certain conclusions have become unavoidable with the cancellation of the National Eligibility Test by the Union education ministry. These are not just about corruption, although that is the immediate and shameful cause of the paper leak that led to the cancellation. But what needs to be examined first is the political administration’s attitude to education as well as the involuntary support this receives from society. When a prime minister lectures students on addressing examination stress in a publicised annual event, it sits oddly with the casual cancellation of a test by which around 900,000 students were to determine their futures. This happened so close to the irregularities in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test — the Joint CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research)-UGC-NET has been postponed too — that the continuing corruption and the callousness about students’ hard work and futures seem incredible. The National Testing Agency’s competence to conduct national-level examinations has been repeatedly questioned and complaints of irregularities, paper leaks and unsatisfactory questions — multiple choice for all seasons? — are not new. Criticism of the agency’s opacity is being loudly voiced.

The main issue is the Centre’s drive to direct education through centralisation — is that why the NTA is opaque? — by depriving educational institutions of autonomy in admission and recruitment that is a common feature of the world’s best universities. In spite of persistent allegations, the Centre included PhD admissions in the test without any discussion with stakeholders. This negated the right of universities to find researchers best suited to their focus. Centralised entrance tests are biased towards the Central board’s school-leaving examinations, reducing chances of students from state or other boards. This lack of standardisation, which can only be addressed by the freedom of institutions to set suitable tests, further fattened the coaching industry. This also means, as Tamil Nadu’s scrutiny of the NEET results showed, that poor or rural students are losing out. How can a Central government policy allow that or the Centre remain blind to it? School education has weakened over the years in any case, with numerous vacancies, oscillating policies, constantly adjusted curricula, poor infrastructure — private schools, again, are for the prosperous — which made Central intervention smoother. What are the states doing about their schools?

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Only academics have protested against centralised tests; guardians are too nervous about their children’s futures to resist. Children from underprivileged families need coaching; the better-off use it to fulfil ambitions. All this feeds into the dissolution of the education system resulting from the Centre’s policies and targets. Education as learning and scientifically-minded enquiry is scarce. Rote-learning cannot produce talented, capable, open-minded young people employable anywhere. Is an obedient, myopic, unthinking population desirable? Perhaps there is a moral here. Playing with education with an urge to control its content and form seems to be enraging young people in a country seething with the unemployed. This is a wastage of India’s demographic dividend.

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