Tuesday, 4 October, 2022
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The idea of ‘one nation one exam’ double-crosses teenagers, shoots up their stress levels

A common test for all central universities may lead to blooming of new coaching factories and allow institutions to ride over their inherent deficiencies.

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The endorsement and execution of a one-size-fits-all approach, packaged with the help of catchy slogans like ‘one nation one test one admission’ under the New Education Policy 2020, isn’t really something India should be doing.

Noted British philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin in his book, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, put a classic defense of why straightjacketing may not be the best foot forward in resolving complex social issues of our times. In dismissing one-stroke attempts at bringing heaven on earth and defending the need for diversified opinions and values for resolving intricate issues, Sir Berlin was only using the famous argument of Immanuel Kant that “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made”.

The quote holds immense significance in the context of sweeping reforms that have been intended under the New Education Policy (NEP). Reforming education sector — severely plagued with myriad, complex and endemic problems ranging from issues related to uneven academic standards and structures to funding, faculty recruitment, promotions, content delivery and governance, among others — is certainly applaudable. But not everything under the NEP is green.

According to notifications from the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, the National Testing Agency has been authorised to conduct an aptitude-cum-subject-specific tests for admission to all central universities. The proposal under active consideration is likely to be implemented in the academic session 2021-22. One of the major arguments given in support of the proposal is that the cutoffs of certain universities and colleges have been steadily soaring and that it is almost absurd to ask students to obtain 100 per cent to get admission in these institutions. The proposed test, as such, would provide level-playing field to students by levelling the diverse standards of teaching and marking across boards.

This is exactly where the problem starts.


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Contradictory scenarios emerging

While such a proposal may work for unitary institutions, it seems to be failing the tests of objectivity, particularly when applied to federal and affiliating universities. For example, in the case of Delhi University, which is where the soaring cutoffs have indeed been the cynosure of all eyes, it has been said that the marks of Class XII would remain relevant and that the cutoffs shall be determined on the combination of the marks obtained and the aptitude test conducted for admission to a particular course. The hope is that this will reduce the cutoffs as those who may have scored high in boards, for whatever reasons or factors, may or may not be able to repeat the feat in an aptitude test.

Even if one were to take such an argument on face value, a realistic assessment of numbers offers a very contradictory scenario.

Consider this – according to data released by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in 2020, of the total students who appeared for Class XII examination, around 1,57,934 scored over 90 per cent, 38,686 had more than 95 per cent and over 5,000 students scored a perfect 100 per cent. These numbers become particularly significant in the backdrop of the limited number of seats available at the University of Delhi – approximately 70,000 in all. Which means that even if one were to limit admissions at DU to CBSE board students alone, the competition will still remain tough. This is because halving the board marks would mean that over a lakh of students would still be at the same level. And even if half of them score very high in the aptitude tests and match it with their performances in the board exams, the resultant percentile cut-off would still be unrealistically higher. The archaic reputations of a few elite colleges will only ensure that the demand remains much higher than the supply.


Also read: Less work, fewer hirings — what DU teachers fear will happen when 4-year UG programme returns


Undermining the autonomy of institutions

Additionally, a common aptitude test by its nature severely undermines the autonomy of an institution/university to design its own standards and yardsticks of assessing its prospective students’ capabilities. After all, what distinguishes a good university from a not-so-good one is the kind of courses it offers and the standard at which not just teaching and learning but also assessments are done. So, shouldn’t a university have its own right to check or to ask for particularities? While such a question certainly makes more sense in the case of state universities, which are mandated to have special provisions to accommodate ethnic or lingual diversities, it also holds true for central universities, given the fact that their feeder cadre or intake pool operating in different states largely remains intra-territorial – limited to the students of that state alone.

So, except for adding on to the high stress levels among the teenagers and double-crossing them, the proposed reform would achieve nothing. The stress will certainly be more aggravated in the upcoming academic year because those appearing for boards in May-June will be required to take the aptitude test almost immediately. Students have been away from the schools for almost a year now and may not be the best Guinea pigs for an experiment of this nature. The proposal may offer two benefits however. First, it may lead to blooming of a new category of coaching factories. Second, it certainly would allow institutions to swiftly ride over their inherent structural deficiencies and limitations. For the elite ones in particular, it would remain business-as-usual — steep cut-offs without offering or catering to the right of the prospective students to know what is in store for them.

Chandrachur Singh @chandrachursing teaches Political Science at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Views are personal.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. The real problem is that there are not enough good quality arts science and commerce colleges to accomodate the country’s burgeoning emographics.

    It will help if not just standardized tests but admissions and selection of arts/science/commerce colleges and courses are also streamlined through a single national portal like JEE for engineering and similarly for state level engineering entrances. At least let that be done for govt colleges.

  2. It is the most absurd system to base admissions on the board exam results.
    Different state boards & central boards have different syllabus, different exam pattern and different marking systems. The evaluation is subjective meaning in long questions same answer can get different marks depending who is checking it and how his mood might be at that point of time. Basing admissions on such an exam is against natural justice.
    If the government is attempting to check the aptitude of the candidates what is wrong in it. If such entence exams can be the sole basis of admissions into JEE and Neet based institutions, then why Commerce and arts graduates be also not admitted on basis of common aptitude test.
    Just base the admissions on a Common aptitude test and let boards be only for eligibility.

  3. Some people don’t understand simplicity at all. The author prefers his children writing 100 exams instead of 1 entrance.

  4. Coaching factories make absolutely good economics. Many coaching teachers are talented and supply the student with the skills and knowledge to comete.

    Coaching industry will generate many jobs in private sector and that is good. Can the government create so many jobs in education? There is a bad side to coaching industry but please play down the competition. So much competition for college admissions in this country, but after a hard earned college degree students underperform at work and business.

  5. I guess having to take 3 dozen separate exams for entry to various academic institutions is a great stress reducer. Has the author never heard of SAT, GRE, LSAT, GMAT? Maybe he is too deep into Isaiah Berlin!!

    • These exams are conducted by private companies, not by the US government.

      As such exams are not the only thing about admissions to US colleges and universities – recommendation letters, essays and extracurricular work also is a major deciding factor. In India, purpose of national level and state level exams are to eliminate candidates, not about selecting
      potential candidates. We are an exam oriented society, because governments have not invested enough in public education. We spend far more on defence.

  6. A common admission exam works in the UK, France, Germany and even the US where SATs provide uniformity.

    Equality is everyone taking the same exam, at the same time. The problem is not with the exam but with the lack of universities given the size of the Indian population

    • SAT is not conducted by the government in USA.
      It is conducted by a private company. Universities prefer SAT scores but it is not essential to write the SAT or GRE to get admissions to a college or university.

      The US state governments spend well on public school education. Our Central Government should give more money to state governments to spend more money on public school and college infrastructure rather than wasting taxpayer money on institutions to create exams. If more good quality public schools and colleges were available so everyone can get admissions we would not need be in this mess.

  7. The advantage of single test is that students don’t have to spend money to buy forms seperately for each institute.

  8. There is a small yet vociferous group of individuals, habitual naysayers, negativity spreaders who perhaps have made protesting / criticising / negating as a mission of their lives. While these individuals have largely been erased from all walks of life, they still exist in 3 places. Universities sicial sciences & language departments, certain media institutions, Foreign funded NGO’s. Out of these I consider the social science teachers as most dangerous as both in school & universities they have the opportunity to corrupt young minds & fill them with hatred towards the state, its institutions. This is how they create soldiers for future. While with long term regime change diversity will come slowly into universities, still the constant naysayers do have nuisance value as of now. These communist/ leftist thinkers otherwise have no contribution towards their country and are a drain on its resources & through their media friends they try and stop all economic development whether dams, roads, industry, reforms basically anything which can lead to development of India. For example if you watch NDTV you will see a constant tirade against everything, yes everything under the Sun. The Prime time anchor just comes and vomits his hatred towards any move, every step of the state. Not even a single program done by that NDTV anchor about saubhagya scheme, Jan shan scheme, ujjwala scheme… Just blacked out. This article i put in the same category of criticism. We oppose because we have to. We want status quo, because that is where there is safety, that is what we are used to. Well, times have changed & so will things.

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