Testing the students too far
Come summer and the `education season' begins of examinations, entrance tests, interviews and admissions. But this year, admission to professional courses has become embroiled in debate.
TRYING TIMES: What does the future portend? PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF
WHEN the Tamil Nadu Government, in its order of June 9, announced the scrapping of the entrance examinations for admission to professional courses and said that admissions would be made only on the basis of marks obtained in the Plus Two or school final examinations, all hell broke loose in the State. Students and parents were up in arms, some in tears. It was unfortunate that the State Government woke up to the realities of the situation too late in the year. From October 2004, students and academicians alike had been urging the Central and State Governments to formulate a national policy for admission to professional courses. There was a case in the Supreme Court, but otherwise, the Governments did little, except to initiate the discussion on the issues.
`Good seat in a good college'
Between April and May, most of the States, the Deemed Universities and the Association or consortium of Engineering and Medical colleges in each State conducted their own common entrance tests, known by different names but going under the general nomenclature of a common entrance test (CET). In order not to lose an opportunity, most of the students took two or more examinations, just to be sure of a "good seat in a good college". Deemed Universities went about admissions on their own; the consortia waited for the State-sponsored CET to be held and then decided to go ahead with their own. And, in Tamil Nadu, their applications to hold a representative CET is still before the Permanent Committee.
That is when the Tamil Nadu Government issued its order, which in effect declared: All entrance tests are abolished; the scheme of taking a re-test for "improvement marks" also stands scrapped; and admissions will be made only on the basis of marks obtained by students in the Plus Two examinations with immediate effect from the academic year 2005-06. All this after the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examinations (TNPCEE) had been conducted and results declared; after applications were issued on that basis and hundreds of students had taken their improvement marks test.
So, there were batches of about 400 writ petitions before the principal seat of the Madras High Court and its Bench in Madurai. Considering the importance and urgency of the issue, the First Bench of the High Court, headed by Chief Justice Markendey Katju, took up all the cases and set a deadline of June 22 for all counters and submissions. After hearing all sides, the First Bench asked the Government to come up with a "third formula" that would not affect or discriminate against any section of students. The petitioners had contended that it was prejudicial to the interests of the Central Board of Secondary Education and ISC students, as they could not secure the kind of high marks that were given in the State Board examinations. More important, the lawyers argued that having given a test and declared its results, the Government could not change the criteria for admissions mid-way through the process. The Bench also concurred with the Government's submission that the interests of the "rural students" had also to be taken into account, and hence the direction to search for a third formula, well in time for next year.
The High Court has taken the burden and wiped the tears away from students, at least for now. There were complaints from both students and parents about the problem of multiple CETs and the waste of time, money and energy in sitting for all of them. But none of them ever thought of doing away with a CET. After all, going by Plus Two marks alone would put a premium on "learning by memorising", while the CET could provide a further test of the student's intelligence and capacity.
Now that the court case is out of the way, the Supreme Court ruling on a CET is not expected because at least one of the Judges in a full Bench that heard the case has since retired and the ball is in the Government of India's court. Educationists, academics and parents alike want the Centre to convene a conference of State Education Ministers as soon as possible to evolve a common national framework for admission to professional courses engineering, medicine and para-medical.
Demand for one common test
Their unanimous demand is that there must be a single common "skills and aptitude test" across the country, which becomes a benchmark.
As there appear to be more colleges and seats than the demand for them, especially in the southern States, the individual colleges could be allowed to specify their own procedures and minimum qualifying marks. The apex bodies of professional courses or the technical universities in the States could monitor the entire admissions process, which must be merit-based, follow the reservation formula in each State and be completely transparent. That must be the objective of the whole exercise.
By September or October this year, the Centre and the States must unveil this national policy and authorise one of the national bodies such as the University Grants Commission, the All India Council of Technical Education/All India Medical Council, to conduct the common aptitude and skills test. Once the results are declared, the admissions can be left to the individual universities or colleges. And water will find its level.
It is marks that decide their future
EVERY year, March and April not only herald the beginning of sweltering heat but also sleepless nights for lakhs of students in Plus Two and their parents for whom a seat in engineering and medicine for their wards is a life's mission. . The idea of a holiday is relegated to the background.
The Engineering Agriculture and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET) conducted for admissions into engineering, medical, agriculture and related courses in the State has attained such significant proportions that even minute developments get front page coverage and no less than the Chief Minister reviews it on a regular basis. Coaching institutions and colleges that lure students with fancy advertisements have turned education into a multi-million business.
Since the introduction of EAMCET in 1978, the test has come a long way in the quality of its content, popularity and the number of students taking it. Over the years, it has changed the very scenario of intermediate education leading to the emergence of corporate colleges and in a way leaving behind the colleges run by the Government. Now, Intermediate education revolves around EAMCET and in the melee of getting an EAMCET score, its very relevance is under question.
As the commercial aspects started dominating the EAMCET since the early 1990s when colleges started boasting about their students' performance through newspaper advertisements and other media, worried academicians used various fora to question these questionable practices. Their contention was that the test was being used to churn out students with loads of textbook knowledge and short on the necessary skills that are a must for students entering professional courses.
The healthy debate forced the A.P. State Council of Higher Education (APSCHE) to introduce analytical questions in the year 2002. The following year a few more changes were brought in that were basically aimed at testing the overall knowledge of students. Though initially opposed, the changes were welcomed by the student community as well as the parents.
A fallout of this exercise was the neglect of Intermediate education that had become less relevant in private colleges. Burgeoning engineering colleges and thousands of seats for the asking, further eroded its importance. Even the top rank in Intermediate became irrelevant, as it would not help the students gain entry into professional courses medicine or engineering.
The developments led to another debate; that Intermediate marks also be taken into account, to contain the neglect of the core subjects, for admission into engineering and medicine courses. It found vocal support from academics like Chukka Ramaiah and also some officials, who wanted a check on the growing negative influence of corporate colleges on Intermediate education. The dominance of urban students over rural students in the EAMCET was another factor.
With growing criticism on EAMCET's dominance, the Government seems to have decided to act fast. Last year, when Prof. K.C. Reddy took over the Chairman of APSCHE, he constituted a committee headed by former JNTU Vice Chancellor C. Daya Ratnam to suggest changes in EAMCET.
After a four-month exercise that included interactions with students, teachers and parents all over the State, the Committee recommended that EAMCET be done away with in a phased manner. And to start with, it suggested that 20 per cent weightage be given for Intermediate marks in the next year admissions. A workshop organised to discuss the recommendations elicited opinions but a majority of them preferred some importance to Intermediate marks.
However, the student community seems to be virtually divided over the issue. While a majority in the rural areas prefer Intermediate marks to be part of the package, urban students are predominantly in favour of the present EAMCET form.
The mood of the Government and officials reflect that some changes would be introduced in the next year's test, come what may. What kind of changes and whether they would indicate the phasing out of EAMCET over a period of time will emerge in the second week of July when the Government announces its decision.
R. RAVIKANTH REDDY
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