'Centre Shouldn't Dictate Admission Process': AK Rajan on TN NEET Rejection
Justice AK Rajan panel recommended that the socio-economic backwardness of students be considered while grading.
Cameraperson & Producer: Smitha TK
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The Justice AK Rajan panel, constituted by the Tamil Nadu government, is one of the first ever to analyse the impact of social status, economic backwardness, and reservation on the performance of students in a national examination.
The report stated that if the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) continues for a few more years, it would affect the healthcare infrastructure of Tamil Nadu, causing a shortage of doctors' appointments in primary health centres and government hospitals.
Since 2017, amid widespread protests, Tamil Nadu has been trying to exempt itself from NEET by passing an ordinance and filing several Public Interest Litigations (PILs).
On 13 September, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin introduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking permanent exemption from NEET.
In an interview with The Quint, retired judge AK Rajan answers questions about the findings in the report that the state government has cited in its NEET exemption request to the Centre.
Why did you look at socio-economic parameters in the first place, while looking at NEET takers’ performance?
Without taking note of the socio economic status, no government can make a policy. Opportunity should be given to everybody. India is trying to imitate exams like SAT and MCAT in foreign countries. But there, the common entrance examination is not conducted based on the syllabus. A student is tested for aptitude, outlook towards society and general knowledge.
Here, everyone studies in a different education board – even the boards in Tamil Nadu, Assam and Maharashtra are different.
So how can you test everyone with one common test?
If one university confers a degree, another university cannot refuse to recognise it. The same way when the Tamil Nadu government is giving a board exam certificate to students, how can the central government not accept it?
Even the Ranjith Roy committee recommended a common test but said that the states that did not want to follow it, should be exempted.
Only NITI Aayog has recommended to bring it all under one system but that is not an educational committee.
A study of medical admissions four years before and after NEET shows nearly a 10-time dip in state board students securing medical admission. Do you see this impacting the healthcare system?
Already our reports say that since the introduction of NEET, the number of students joining science courses has gone down, whereas the people who opt for commerce and history has increased.
Students know they can't study medicine or nursing if they don’t pass NEET and they don’t want to take up another exam, so they are opting for different fields.
According to the recommendations of your panel, re-profiling of scores by considering socio-economic disparities among students, can be done using an 'Adversity Score'. Could you explain how this will work?
For example in the United States, two persons compete for one particular seat. One is white and another black and both of them were equally equipped in all aspects.
The authorities select the black student as he is already from an oppressed class and so should be given the opportunity.
If you look at students from the rural communities, many don't have internet and cellphones. In many cases, he or she is the first generation student to get into college. So such students should be given preference during admission.
You have also suggested reformation of the school education. Do you believe that one of the main challenges faced by state board students in writing NEET is that their assessment doesn’t test higher order thinking skills and so is not at par with other boards?
A few years back in Tamil Nadu, ‘Samachiya Kalvi’ was introduced and the syllabus was one of the finest. There were a few people who deliberately propagated that the syllabus is not good.
The state government should be the only one with the authority to draft the syllabus and assessment because only the state will know their students' requirements. The central government sitting in Delhi cannot understand what students in every remote village, all over India are going through.
You have received a number of letters from some students saying they want NEET to be abolished and others saying they want NEET. What were the reasons cited?
We have received 85,650-odd letters. Of which about 65,900 students said they don't want NEET and wanted it scraped. A few students said NEET is good. Some who had prepared for NEET asked if we could continue it at least for two more years because they had already prepared for it. Some people said it tested all students uniformly and treated everyone equally.
After considering all the reasons and going through the data, we came to the conclusion that NEET adversely affects the students, especially the poor students. There cannot be a competition between a racehorse and a cart-pulling horse and that is how vast the difference is between students from different boards.
If NEET is scraped, won’t students be burdened by capitation fees?
We are concerned only with the admission of students and we believe the state board examination is sufficient (to test the students).
The capitation fees is a different aspect and has to be controlled by the state by making different laws. It is not impossible but the government needs to ensure the students are not burdened with this.
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