Is it Revolution 2022 with new entrance test?

The distributions of marks given by different boards in the school-leaving exams vary widely and often are not quite compatible.

Published: 05th May 2022 02:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th May 2022 02:38 AM   |  A+A-

Exam

For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)

Soon India may see the world’s largest college entrance examination. This year onwards, 45 central universities in India will be admitting students through the Common University Entrance Test (CUET). Some other institutes including 25 Karnataka state universities, for example, have also offered admissions to undergraduate courses through it. As more and more state universities agree to use CUET—to be conducted twice a year from next year—it is likely to surpass the world’s largest college entrance examination conducted by China, Gaokao.

Education, of course, is a diverse topic. It’s in the concurrent list of the Constitution. And ensuring parity and harmony in a big and diverse country is never easy. For example, the distributions of marks given by different boards in the school-leaving exams vary widely and often are not quite compatible. Marks in certain boards are so high that some elite universities are even forced to make their admission cut-off very close to 100%! Consequently, students of comparatively low-scoring boards cannot even aspire to get admission to these institutions. A parity is urgently needed, and there is no denying it.

One simple solution is to implement an age-old statistical technique called ‘quantile normalisation’, which can make two or more (marks) distributions identical in statistical properties. Taking the scores of any particular board as ‘standard’, marks of any other board can be suitably shifted or scaled or stretched so that its quantiles match with the ‘standard’ one. After such a normalisation, the proportion of students receiving any certain percentage of marks or less would be the same on each board. A 96% score in board ‘A’ may thus become 90% in the transformed scale, whereas the normalised score of 87% marks in board ‘B’ may very well become 92%. Moreover, such a method can easily be implemented by using a simple computer program.

The UGC, of course, didn’t advocate such a methodology to combine all board results for university admission. The CUET has been implemented, instead. That’s also alright—the basic objective is to bring parity in the marks of different boards, whatever the route. In fact, the UGC has urged state universities to use the CUET for their admissions as well. Predictably, not all the states or state universities are quite eager to comply.

The Tamil Nadu Assembly, for example, passed a resolution against CUET, arguing that it “denies equal opportunity for students from state boards”. The ruling DMK, as well as the opposition AIADMK, supported it. There will certainly be resistance from some other states.

What would be the consequences of CUET on the academic culture of the country? The CUET syllabus 2022 will consist of both the CBSE Term 1 and Term 2 curriculums. Thus, to get their students CUET-ready, other boards will have to make their syllabuses similar to that of CBSE. Will CUET eventually force us towards a ‘one country, one syllabus’ culture then?

There are other concerns such as the relevance of board exams. If a common exam like CUET suffices for university admissions, will the students give enough importance to their boards? Well, don’t we see many medical and engineering aspirants not caring much about their board exams?

And, importantly, there is a widespread apprehension that CUET will lead to a rise in the coaching institute culture in the country. As we know, a massive coaching industry has developed to cater to IIT aspirants where about 11 lakh students appear for only 18,000 seats. A town like Kota with a huge coaching economy of possibly `4,000 crore is not the complete picture; countrywide, similar institutes exist to capitalise on this IIT hype. It is the same for the about 16 lakh appearing for NEET. In contrast, if 90% of the Class 12 students of the country prepare to sit for CUET, India will have over 1.1 crore students appearing to secure a seat in the country’s 45 central universities. And with more and more universities clustering under a common umbrella, an alternative and much more widespread coaching culture and, of course, a huge economy might emerge. Two CUET exams per year will soon help create a pattern in the question papers and this might become instrumental for the coaching industry to flourish. Many fear that such a coaching culture, if it takes a grip, might further widen the rural-urban divide and also the economic gap within society. The UGC chairperson, however, believes that CUET will not contribute to the coaching culture. Well, it could be great if that happens.

Again, if the universities in a state decide to use CUET for their admission processes, most of the Class 12 students there would get away with just one exam, while students of non-participating states would need to also concentrate on the boards for possible admission in state universities.

Well, our school-education system was running along an orbit having two important foci—medical and engineering entrance exams—at least for a huge number of students, their teachers and guardians. As CUET is expected to spread its wings, a new and powerful focus would invariably be added to the school education system of the country. And the orbit is going to be redefined in a yet unknown direction. Forever. In the country of Revolution 2020, it’s certainly a Revolution 2022.

Atanu Biswas

Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata

(appubabale@gmail.com)



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