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Common entrance test addresses the high cut-off question but also raises many new questions

Experts say the way we design our tests allows the coaching industry to thrive; this has happened in the case of NEET, JEE and other entrance exams.

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Headlines screaming 100 per cent cut-offs for college admissions will now be a thing of the past. With this, the focus, anxiety and obsession of lakhs of parents and students, who run this race year after year for a seat in India’s top institutions, will shift to cracking an exam. The Central University Common Entrance Test or CUET is here.

After announcing it in the new National Education Policy in 2020, the Narendra Modi government has finally decided to implement a common entrance test for admission to all 45 central universities, including Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu University, Allahabad University and others.

The mind-boggling cut-off marks will no longer intimidate students seeking a college admission and instead an entrance test that promises to judge them only on the basis of their aptitude will get them the seat. But a new system that replaces the old one isn’t necessarily free of all evils. As a major reform, CUET will have far-reaching effects for India’s higher education ecosystem. And that’s why it is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

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One more entrance could be a ‘test’

While CUET seems like the most logical idea to solve the problem of high cut-offs, let’s take a step back and think again, do we really need to add one more entrance test to our education system? After the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical colleges, Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for engineering colleges, a hotel management exam for hospitality courses, Law School Admission Test (LSAT) for legal education, do we now need one for B.A, B.Sc, B.Com etc as well?

Two of the biggest entrance exams in the country NEET and JEE have already undergone a mess recently. While there were demands to ban NEET, owing to the fact that it favours a certain section of students, middle-class and upper middle-class who can afford coaching, the JEE exam was embroiled in a cheating scam.

On an average, nearly 13 lakh students take the NEET exam, nearly 12 lakh the JEE , but close to one crore pass the Class XII boards every year. Because of the sheer numbers involved, the impact would also be huge, if the new exam system doesn’t go well.

Not many would recall, but an exam similar to CUET — the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET) — existed till very recently. It started in 2010 for admission to 12 central universities. So, in a way, CUET is a revamped version of CUCET.

Also read: 8 semesters, 160 credit-hours: What Four-Year Undergraduate Programme approved by UGC looks like

What experts say

So, does CUET add to India’s education system? Experts are divided on its relevance.

One of the main concerns that educationists have expressed is that the test might give leeway to the coaching industry as students will have to prepare post-Class XII board exams.

Ashima Bhandari, a private school teacher from Gurugram, who has been teaching high school students for a decade now says, “After appearing for a board exam, students do not need to sit for yet another test to get a college admission. This is just going to increase their anxiety and they will resort to coaching classes like they do with NEET and JEE and we do not want that.”

Former Delhi University vice-chancellor and educationist Dinesh Singh also expresses his doubts about the exam. “All our past track record indicates that an influx in demand for coaching is most likely to happen, however, we cannot pre-judge. Much depends on how they design the exam. The way we design our tests allows the coaching industry to thrive, this has happened in the case of NEET, JEE and other entrance exams.”

An editorial in Business Standard makes a point about the nature of the exam. “By far the bigger issue the CUET must address is the nature of the exam. If it is designed to genuinely test aptitude and ability for undergraduate study then it must avoid the pitfall of following a set pattern of variable questions, eventually creating a set of standard Q&As that students merely have to learn by rote,” the edit read.

A TOI editorial on CUET also acknowledges that the exam will have “teething troubles” and the UGC will have to fix that urgently.

However, on apprehensions that the test will force students to avail coaching to crack it, director general of National Testing Agency Vineet Joshi has clarified that the exam will based on Class XII syllabus and use the “model syllabus”, comprising of questions from both National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and state boards.

UGC chairman M. Jagadesh Kumar has also clarified that the exam will only test students’ basic knowledge and aptitude.

But the eligibility criteria for writing CUET vis-à-vis minimum marks scored in the boards is a factor that’s still awaiting clarity. As per UGC rules, there is no minimum passing percentage required for a student to sit for the exam, they just need to pass it. Individual universities, however, can decide the minimum percentage at which they will admit a student, which is likely to be very low. Delhi University, for example, has decided to keep 40 per cent marks in Class XII as the criteria for admission, in addition to the CUET scores.

So, will this drive students to focus only on scoring minimum passing marks in boards and divert attention to CUET? It is a possibility, say experts, but only time will tell how that goes.

“Scoring good marks in Class XII is not just about getting into a good college, it also gives an ego boost to the students for future, they feel that they have something in them to be successful in life. So, will the entrance test allow them to focus less on Class XII scores, well I don’t think so, but then again only time will tell how it goes,” says Nisha, a teacher at Carmel Convent school in Bhopal.

So then, the question is, if not an exam, then what? Even the education system does not seem to have the perfect answer. The policymakers seem to be trying everything until something eventually works out. As for CUET, as Faiz says…“Hum Dekhenge”. 

Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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