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NEET dilemma

The National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET), the common entrance test for MBBS and dental courses, will not apply to the states for now. President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday signed the ordinance to keep state boards out of the common entrance test for this year. The ordinance on NEET, cleared by the Union Cabinet last Friday, is aimed at “partially” overturning Supreme Court order. The court had directed that NEET will be held across India for MBBS and dental courses. 

Besides grave concerns surrounding the medium of instruction, state governments complained that students affiliated to state boards will find it tough to appear for the uniform test as early as July. These students will be at a loss compared to those who have followed the central board, they argued. To the uninitiated, the apex court order was met by serious complaints from students especially in states where the local medical entrance exams had been conducted or were different. Both the court and state governments have legitimate concerns to back their respective positions.

The court’s order was based on a rationale that a common exam would level the playing field for medical aspirants across the country. Corrupt practices have permeated into the admissions process for private medical colleges. Meanwhile, a certain amount of rigging has been known to happen in some state examinations. Experts contend that the aim was to create one meritorious all-India list that medical colleges could then use for admissions, along the lines of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for engineering aspirants. Despite its best intentions, the court’s order translates into enforcing a uniform approach to medical examinations. Students who haven’t studied in English or Hindi-medium schools and aren’t from educational institutions affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will be at a disadvantage. Experts against the apex court’s order also contend that enforcing NEET throughout India will undermine the spirit of cooperative federalism in the education sector, by favouring a central system built by officials in the national capital. “The government’s ordinance, putting the decision off for a year, is a chance to examine these issues. With the Supreme Court looking over its shoulder, the government should come to a final decision,” according to an editorial in Scroll.in. 

Under such a diversified school education system, why is it important that NEET is conducted only in English and Hindi? What happens to those students who follow other regional languages as their principal medium of instruction? The Constitution recognises these state languages under Schedule VIII. How can any national level entrance test ignore that? Unless these fundamental issues are addressed, tests like NEET will only promote vested interest groups.
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