Neet not neat, mired in mess

Experts call for revamp of exam system for public education
Neet not neat, mired in mess

NEW DELHI: Amid nation-wide uproar over NEET-UG exam irregularities involving lives of lakhs of students and agonising parents, the spotlight is sharply on the systematic failure of our institutions to conduct public examinations.

The fallout of the massive irregularities is that aspirants, who were otherwise eligible to get admission into over 50,000 government medical colleges across the country, would find it difficult, if not impossible, now. Thanks to the inflated marks, many bright students would not be able to make the cut.

Despite the National Testing Agency’s (NTA) repeated denials that NEET-UG exam paper was not leaked, police in Bihar and Gujarat have registered cases, and arrested a number of people, including an aspirant from Samastipur, who confessed that he got the leaked NEET paper a day before the exam and memorised it.

The scale of the scam has understandably triggered a wave of condemnation not only from students, parents, educationists, medical associations, but from opposition parties too.

While over 30 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court and various high courts, the demand for re-examination, a CBI probe or an independent investigation has grown.

For angry students and parents, the only way to protest the “unfairness of the system” was to come out on the streets. Protests broke out in almost all the states. Some even came out to demonstrate outside Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s residence in Delhi.

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With Rahul Gandhi taking on the Modi government, Prdahan had to call a hurried press meet on Wednesday to announce that the government is forming a high-powered panel to improve the NTA functioning. His remarks came after his initial clean chit to the NTA.

In the midst of the raging controversy, it’s the students who have suffered. While for some it’s the end of a dream to become a doctor, for others, the road to success is still far off.

For Akhil Seelam from Bengaluru, who scored 640 on 720 and was ranked 38,000, the chance to get admission in the city is slim now. He is now planning to move to a smaller city and eyeing a not-so-popular college. He said if there were no inflation of ranks, he would have secured a rank in 10,000, enabling him to get a seat easily in the city, where he lives.

“Due to the NTA’s arbitrary manner of giving grace marks, my rank has inflated by 340%. This is a rare case scenario for competitive exams,” he said.

“Such a low rank will push me out of the city to find a government medical college. I will now have to look at Tier-2 or 3 cities in Karnataka such as Hubbali or Mangaluru,” said Seelam, adding that all this will mean an increase in his and his family’s expenses.

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He said his classmate scored 582 marks, a good score to get into a private or government college in Bengaluru. But this year, he has no chance. “He is now looking at taking a drop year and retaking the exam next year,” he added.

Another student, Devika N, said she is also planning a drop year and to prepare for the next attempt, and this despite scoring 550 out of 720.

“With this year’s ranks, I would not get a government college seat even if I go to rural areas. We are from a middle-class family and my parents cannot afford a private college. I spent my two years preparing for this, the results were disappointing,” said Devika, pointing out that private college fees are unaffordable for them as it costs over Rs. 1 crore.

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B Jahnavi from Visakhapatnam, who got 326 marks, demanded the release of the list of 1,563 students who benefitted from the grace marks allocated by the NTA, as well as the release of their OMR sheets. She also insisted that the exam for these 1,563 students, scheduled for June 23, should be conducted by another agency instead of the NTA.

Suprit Mishra and Pritam Patra, both students of Sai International School, Bhubaneswar, have scored 690 and 715 marks out of 720, respectively. The cause for their unhappiness is their ranks. While Mishra’s marks placed him in the 5,039-rank, Patra got 265.

“Compared to last year, there is so much rank inflation this time that the 5,039-rank will not get me admission to any AIIMS. There is rank inflation every year considering the increasing number of students appearing for the exam. Going by last year’s ranks, 690 marks would have placed me within the 1,500-rank bracket but this year, the same marks have placed me in the 5,000-rank bracket. This will not get me admission to an AIIMS,” Mishra said.

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Patra too had expected to be in the 100-rank bracket. “Last year, 715 marks would have fetched 19-20 rank. This year it is 265.”

V Lalitha from Salem in Tamil Nadu, who completed Class XII in 2022, appeared for NEET in 2023 and secured 446 marks. In her steadfastness to pursue medicine from a reputed government college, she went for coaching for a year and managed to improve her score to 624 this year. However, she said, she could have scored much higher if the first question paper given to her was properly printed.

She said she was not able to see the questions as it was poorly printed. She was given a fresh question paper 30 minutes later, but was not provided additional time. Highlighting how she went for coaching despite her father’s meagre earnings as a weaver, she said she could have easily scored 680 if there was no delay with the paper.

A Vignesh Subramanian, who attended the exam in Alagar Public School in Thoothukudi, said he and many others got a different and tougher set of questions compared to others.

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Shivaprakash Sosale, Department of Pediatrics, Bangalore Medical College, said parents are panicking, especially for general merit students who expected to secure seats are now being threatened. “Students with ranks in the 10,000-12,000 category would have got a seat here but now that bracket has moved to 3,000-4,000 ranks.”

Even as Pardhan said that the government is committed to protecting the rights of the students and planning to rectify the system, experts said, “it is the need of the hour.”

Sajith Thomas, a career coach in Thiruvananthapuram, said, “The NEET exam needs to be restructured in such a fashion that the coaching centers don’t have an upper hand.”

“The concept and the setting of questions need to be continuously altered so that the students are forced to anticipate something different every time. Only by doing this can a level playing field can be arrived at for the coached and non-coached students,” he added.

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Chennai-based career consultant and educationist, Jayprakash Gandhi, said since the time NEET was introduced, the examination has always been marred by controversies.

“Not even once, the NTA has managed to conduct the exam in a flawless manner. From question paper leak to grace marks allocation to multiple toppers from a single exam centre, several irregularities have come to the fore. The NTA has no right to play with the career of the students.”

He added that the Supreme Court should order a thorough probe into the irregularities and suggest alternatives to NEET. “I am shocked to see that students who have failed class XII exams, have scored over 700 marks in NEET. Not only the future of lakhs of students is in danger but this poses a serious threat to our healthcare system,” Gandhi said.

(With inputs from Binita Jaiswal, S Godson Wisely Dass, Anu Kuruvilla, Diana Sahu, Aarti Kashyap and K Kalyan Krishna Kumar)

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