Decoding the NEET exam controversy to finding ways to prevent recurrence in future, here's what experts said - Hindustan Times
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Decoding the NEET exam controversy to finding ways to prevent recurrence in future, here's what experts said

ByGaurav Sarma, New Delhi
Jun 21, 2024 07:10 PM IST

The NEET UG controversy has taken the country by storm with students, opposition staging massive protests. Check what experts have to say on the burning issue.

The National Testing Agency or the NTA has been grabbing headlines off late but for all the wrong reasons. Whether it be the controversy surrounding the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET)-UG or the failure to conduct and subsequent postponement of the UGC NET 2024 – things have only been getting worse for the Agency that was established with the very objective to conduct entrance examinations for admission/fellowship in higher educational institutions in a streamlined, transparent, and error-free manner.

The NEET UG fiasco has taken the country by storm with aspirants through out India staging massive protests over the failure of the NTA in holding the exam in an error free manner. (File image/ANI)
The NEET UG fiasco has taken the country by storm with aspirants through out India staging massive protests over the failure of the NTA in holding the exam in an error free manner. (File image/ANI)

Not to forget, the opposition has been going all guns blazing against the NTA and the BJP-led centre, accusing them of jeopardizing the future of students. A few leaders from the opposition have even demanded the disbandment of the NTA.

Amid these allegations, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan informed on Thursday that the Centre will set up a high-level panel to look into the functioning of the NTA. He even vowed that the NTA would be strengthened and those responsible for paper leaks would be punished.

Also read: "NTA to be strengthened": Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan amid row over NEET-UG, UGC-NET

What experts think and recommend:

To get an in-depth understanding of the NTA’s role and relevance in conducting the examinations and issues concerning grace marks offered to aspirants, we spoke to a few experts including academics, medical students, and research scholars, and more who spoke at length on the issue.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, renowned NEET educator Alakh Pandey said, “Consider the current scenario wherein achieving a perfect score of 720 in a highly competitive exam doesn't guarantee admission to premier institutions like AIIMS Delhi due to limited seat availability. This sudden surge in high scores can't be a natural phenomenon.”

He said, “Sensitivity and the developments around this entire situation have jeopardized the NTA’s integrity. Students devote years of hard work to cracking these exams - some even taking gap years to pursue their dreams. The youth of today is the future of tomorrow and it is imperative they have faith in such institutions. Our battle is for all 24 lakh students who have been affected.”

Pandey said that the NTA agreed to remove the grace marks of 1,563 students only after PILs were filed in the Supreme Court. However, the real issue, he said, remains that only those students who approached the courts have been provided relief, barring all others. “This is a clear violation of the Right to Equality. How can a 17 or an 18-year-old student be expected to take an exam and then approach the Courts?” Pandey pointed out.

Also read: SC again declines to stay process of counselling in NEET-UG 2024, issues notice to NTA

Likewise, Girish Malla Baruah, Director of GMB Tutorial Home in Guwahati said, “The scandal surrounding NEET is very dangerous for the country’s Education system. If this must continue, the entire education system will be destroyed. It will be detrimental for society to have produced doubtful Doctors. Those who have done this immediately should be punished.”

Echoing similar views, Ratul Rajkhowa, a renowned educationist from Assam, and a retired professor associated with several academic institutes involved in confidential works said, “The NEET (UG) scandal that has taken the country by shock is extremely unfortunate and demeaning. It has totally tarnished the image of NTA and everyone connected with the process, both before the student community and the academic community at large.”

“The entire episode smacks of a deep-rooted conspiracy involving people not only at the grassroots but also in the uppermost echelons of the system. The scandal which has destroyed the morale of the aspirants needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The guilty should be dealt with under the strictest terms of the law of the nation.”

Abhinav Borbora, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, highlighted, “When the NTA took over as the body to conduct crucial examinations, the mandate was to conduct exams centrally. When you do so, it also presupposes a vast infrastructure. These exams were earlier conducted in pen and paper mode, but with the advent of CBT (Computer-Based Test) mode, there was an apparent shortage of centres with such facilities.”

He added “When the CBSE conducted such exams, it used to use the schools as its centre to hold the examinations. It had a proper infrastructure in place. India is a country where there is a vast population of aspirants. When you are speaking of an examination involving lakhs of candidates, it is imperative to have a proper infrastructure in place, and this is where the NTA has failed. The purpose of the NTA is based on holding the exams in a specialized manner, but it has not been able to make any breakthrough which raises serious questions on its purpose.”

“It is important for the NTA to understand that if you cannot maintain the integrity of an exam, you are failing as a body,” said Borbora.

Similarly, Dr Rituraj Borbora, an Assam-based medical expert said, "In India, NEET and other competitive exams are buried under controversy and disappointment. Rumours of seats in Government Medical Colleges being sold add to the disillusionment. This disparity is stark, with some scoring full marks through malpractices while others, despite multiple attempts, struggle to achieve an eligible rank—a situation that sorely lacks grace. It is time that organizations like the NTA initiate constructive reforms to safeguard the interests of the students, and the future of the nation.”

On the issue of grace marks, Gaurav Tyagi, the founder of Career Xpert, stated that grace marks can have serious consequences, particularly for NEET candidates preparing for the 2024 exams.

He said, “For NEET hopefuls preparing for 2024, the thought of grace marks brings both optimism and uncertainty. While it provides a buffer against unexpected setbacks, it also emphasizes the significance of thorough preparation and resilience when negotiating the examination process's hurdles. As a medical advisor, I consistently advise students that wisely applying grace marks can be a lifeline for NEET hopefuls facing unforeseen challenges. However, relying on grace marks should not diminish the need for extensive preparation and strategic exam preparations. Aspirants must focus on learning their subjects, refining problem-solving skills, and keeping a resilient mindset. Grace marks should be seen as a supplement rather than a primary metric.”

“While grace marks can bring temporary comfort, true success in NEET 2024 requires concentration, perseverance, and a firm commitment to academic brilliance,” Tyagi added.

Raj Vardhan Dixit, OSD Chairman of Noida International Institute of Medical Science (NIIMS) College and Hospital, said, “Grace marks may look sympathetic and necessary in terms of guaranteeing fairness and understanding the obstacles that students encounter, particularly during these exceptional times. However, its consequences must be carefully studied, especially considering the NEET exams, which determine the fate of lakhs of aspiring doctors.”

He added, “While grace marks can bring solace to students who have encountered unexpected challenges throughout their exams, these shouldn't be put at risk based on merit values that support competitive tests such as NEET. The integrity of these examinations is critical because they serve as a standard for choosing applicants with the necessary knowledge and abilities to flourish in medical education and practice. Grace marks have an impact on the healthcare system as a whole, not just on individual students.”

“Providing grace marks may assuage immediate worries, but such approaches must not accidentally lower medical education standards or compromise patient care in the long run,” he said.

Reforms that can be initiated:

Alakh Pandey suggested that holding NEET Exams twice a year like other competitive exams can help in reducing the pressure on students and give them multiple attempts to perform well and analyze their performance.

He also suggested the increased implementation of computer-based tests to not only minimize the chances of paper leaks but also provide accurate timings and prevent manipulation of exam schedules.

The NEET educator also said, “Emphasizing the need for the government and society to prioritize education is a must. This includes treating the integrity of exams with the same importance as other national events and issues such as a cricket match.”

The NEET UG row: Story so far

The NEET UG fiasco began over an alleged paper leak case during the conduct of the NEET UG exam by the NTA on May 5, 2024, and a consequent outrage over the “inflation of marks” of 1,563 students who were compensated for the loss of time. Students from at least six centers in states, including Meghalaya, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Surat, and Chandigarh, had complained about the loss of time during exams.

It was after the results were announced on June 4, 2024, that a massive uproar broke out, with several aspirants and parents demanding a probe and seeking a “re-exam”, alleging that the paper was leaked at certain centers where students got high scores. To be precise, about 67 students scored a perfect 720, unprecedented in the NTA's history, with six from a centre in Haryana's Faridabad figuring in the list, raising suspicions about irregularities. It has been alleged that grace marks contributed to 67 students sharing the top rank.

Also read: NEET UG Row: Opposition launches scathing attack on Centre, NTA, says future of students being destroyed

Even as protests by students shook the country, things escalated a notch higher when reports of paper leaks came to the fore from Patna, with subsequent arrests being made by the Bihar Police.

Anurag Yadav, who is among those arrested and an aspirant from Samastipur, had even made a shocking confession that he was handed the leaked question paper by his uncle Sikandar Prasad Yadavendu, a day before the examination. He said that his uncle had summoned him from Kota in Rajasthan to Samastipur in Bihar saying that all arrangements for the exam had been made. Anurag further said that he was “made to study and memorize the question paper overnight.”

Even though the clamour over the NEET UG controversy or the UGC NET is far from calming down anytime soon, it remains to be seen as to what concrete steps will be taken by the Government of India. The road may be tough, but surely not an impossible one.

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