Tamil Nadu’s solution will only encourage competitive grade inflation by different boards. Medical education requires a certain rigour of study and, therefore, a standardised test like NEET.
The backdrop to Tamil Nadu’s ‘NEET-alternative’ legislation would seem quite compelling. To justify enacting a Bill that allows medical education aspirants in the state to bypass the National Eligibility cum Entrance test (NEET)—and sets 12th-grade scores as the admission criterion—the TN government cites the exclusionary effect of the standardised test.
Post-NEET becoming the sole medical entrance examination, students from Tamil-medium schools account for a mere 1.99% of the population in medical colleges in the state, as opposed to 14.88% four years ago (2016-17, pre-NEET); the proportion of English-medium educated students increased to 98.01% from 85.12%. A little over 1% of the successful candidates were from state-board schools, while they account for a mere 0.16% now (without the 7.5% reservation introduced by the state government last year). Several youngsters in the state have committed suicide after failing to qualify in the NEET.
Tamil Nadu’s solution will only encourage competitive grade inflation by different boards. Medical education requires a certain rigour of study and, therefore, a standardised test like NEET. The issues with NEET can be resolved without junking the test. The fact that the share of qualifying candidates with CBSE education has grown from less than 1% pre-NEET to close to 39% while that of state-board students has shrunk from 98.23% to 59.41% means either that the NEET structure favours a CBSE curriculum disproportionately or that the state-board curriculum has always been deficient and has only now been shown up. If it is the first, the state could have opted to build pressure on the National Testing Agency that conducts the NEET to bring in curricular diversity. But, if it is the second, the state government must revisit its own curriculum and bring it up to the mark.
A member of the panel that studied the NEET-impact on TN—quoted by the The Indian Express—reasoned that given 99% of the aspirants who secured admission in TN with coaching support, shows the test puts a medical seat out of the reach of underprivileged students. There has been a fall in representation of students from households with annual income of less than `2.5 lakh per annum from the pre-NEET era (from 47% to 41%), but bypassing the NEET is of little use. Those well-off can afford access services that improve their chances, even if it is coaching for board exams! And as for the falling representation of Tamil-medium students, the fact that NEET is already being conducted in Tamil would suggest the problem lies elsewhere, perhaps in the curriculum of the state board.
The state could focus more on reducing language barriers and subsidise or provide coaching services for the under-privileged. This would help uphold the quality of medical education in the country by propping a standardised test that erases curricular gaps and grade inflation. Although TN has always backed school education with substantial budgetary allocations, for FY22, this has been pruned; this, at a time when government school admissions are on the rise. The state may have identified a problem, but the solution isn’t the right one.