The virus is there and, we have been told, we must learn to live with it. No one knows how long. Life must go on, or is it that the Show Must Go On, signalling to the world that while others may be struggling painfully, India has gotten back on its feet and is about to embark on an exciting sprint - or is it a marathon - of self-reliance culminating in ecstasy?
Nothing else explains the nation’s continuing obsession with conducting NEET and JEE—the tests that decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of youngsters every year.
These entrance tests—it would be a travesty to dignify with the label of examinations—have over the years reduced all school and higher education in our country into a Kafkaesque joke. No student in secondary school takes what is being taught in the classes seriously. PCME or PCMB marks are all that matter.
The cut-off marks for admissions in reputed colleges have pierced the sky and this has resulted not only in devaluation of other subjects in social sciences, humanities and languages but also encouraged the coaching shops and tuition factories the guarantee to enable their ‘students’ to crack the all-important entrance tests or cross the cut-off hurdle. Kota had become synonymous with the Coaching Virus much before the advent of COVID-19.
The best and the brightest in their generation aspire only—or are pushed and pulled in that direction—to become doctors and engineers. The cruel joke is that after this small elite emerges out of IITs and prestigious medical colleges, they suddenly find their true calling in life. They know that they have done it once and can, with a little luck, do it again. They want to serve the nation as civil servants.
After all, aren’t the tribe of IAS, IPS and their bureaucratic kin the real creme de la creme? Aren’t they the ones who run the country and wield real power behind the visible faces of politicians strutting the stage? Thus begins another chase of a mirage—cracking the UPSC triple hurdles: prelims, mains and the interviews.
This has given rise to the 'coaching class culture' that imitates and improves upon the Kota model. Cramming is the key and some training in acting—presentation of self skills.
Irony is that General Knowledge becomes a special subject and scoring optional subjects resemble the game of Russian roulette. The IITians discover that they can barely cope with essay writing or realise that they must before the interview cultivate a hobby. Crash course in shared cultural heritage, folk lore, trivia about the candidate’s place of birth etc.
The lot of those—leftovers and also-rans maybe—who remain in the not so level-playing field to be recruited as college and university teachers is no better. They must clear the NET/JRF. One could go on adding to this list the CLAT, and the GMAT scores, but what purpose would it serve?
Do any of these qualifying entrance tests really test the merit of those who take it? Isn’t it a bit like our electoral system complete with reservations and all where the First Past the Post, the Winner Takes It All?
All that has gone before - 'education’ in schools and colleges' - doesn’t matter. So why should any sensible person bother about prescribed course content, revised and socially relevant syllabi or command of language?
It’s only the unpatriotic dissidents, the trouble makers who are concerned and agitated about socially relevant content and freedom of expression. The debate has raged for years to reform education and grading system. The pattern of qualifying tests is also changed at periodic intervals. Nothing though seems to change. The more the change, more the things remain the same.
The floods can wait. And the violent crimes against young children and helpless women. Riot victims must show a little more patience. Skeletons of old contempt cases keep tumbling out of the cupboard, young promising stars and starlets die mysteriously, sporting icons finally retire or celebrities announce a new arrival in the family.
With so much to report to the 'news hungry' reader and viewer who can be bothered by as dull a topic as NEET and JEET? But you would be surprised. From the apex court to the honourable education minister, the state governments ruled by parties opposed to the BJP have prioritised the exams.
The UGC, almost a state within the state, is the one that has the power to de-recognise a degree or penalise a delinquent institution. The body that has failed to maintain standards across the board now is in a position to dictate to state governments—regardless of their ability in the present context—when they should hold final exams.
Education minister, a well-meaning man, has shared with us the information that millions have downloaded their admit card. Did the poor kids have any choice? We can do no better than to conclude with a line from an old Urdu couplet: Mumkin hai is ke baad koi imtihan na ho! (Hopefully, this is the last exam or test ordeal).
The author is a former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and can be contact at email@example.com