Entrance Exams and Equality: An Empty Promise

The Entrance examinations like CUET brings the debate on educational equality versus educational equity in higher education and runs contrary to National Education Policy and everything it promises to replace.

  Picture Courtesy : Hindustan Times

Entrance examinations are brought to the fore front with a promise of equality to students and as an alternative to rote learning. These examinations have become sought after for admissions almost all courses to earn their degrees, from bachelors to master’s degrees and so forth. Following this norm, the National Testing Agency (NTA), an autonomous testing agency, was established by the Ministry of Education to conduct all the national-level entrance examinations. A few from the long list are IIT JEE, NEET etc. Currently, the NTA is conducting the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), a computer-based entrance examination for UG courses for the first time in 43 central universities, 13 state universities, 12 deemed universities, and 18 private universities across the nation. However, these examinations are an entry barrier for students from various backgrounds, becoming the system it ought to replace, and run contrary to the stated objectives of the policy in higher education.

The debate of educational equality versus educational equity in higher education would help one understand the menace that these entrance examinations create. The CUET is a case in point, like other similar exams mirroring the NCERT syllabus. It is seen as the creation of equality among students. It was welcomed and said to replace the overrated Class XII board examination and multiple entrance examinations as a basis for admissions to premier universities. But, in contrast, the students from different state boards whose average scores are numerically higher than those of CBSE or ICSE boards are facing disproportionate success rates. Considering the IIT-JEE success rate among state boards and central board students, according to a survey, 83% of senior secondary students from state boards have a 35% success rate. The NEET UG does not differ in the outcome as highlighted by the Justice AK Rajan committee in the Tamil Nadu government report on marginalizing rural, poor, and government school students by the same. In addition, the digital divide prevalent in the country was exposed during the pandemic, when accessing online teaching was a distant dream for many in remote areas. A computer-based test with reported technical glitches after a truncated academic session due to the pandemic is an added burden. Moreover, academicians feel that the MCQ-centric tests for admissions in humanities courses will kill every genuine learner. The CUET will tread the same path soon. This situation has compelled the CUET and its ilk to be viewed from the lens of educational equity, denoting the fairness, and inclusion in providing education.

The examination goes against the National Education Policy (NEP) based on which it is conducted. The contradictions are as follows: Firstly, the NEP document has repeatedly spelled out its aim to resist ‘coaching culture,’ but these exams, unfortunately, end up cultivating the same. Secondly, the policy conceptualizes building multidisciplinary institutions to provide multiple entries and exits in courses with competent certification. But the entrance examination scheme makes the process tedious. Thirdly, the NEP calls for a formative continuous evaluation including periodic testing to decide the future course of the student where the entrance exams are superfluous.
Equality without equity is an empty promise that leads to mass exclusion and marginalization. The detrimental effect of these missteps will be to make higher education accessible only to a sizeable young population who has the means to afford it. It is contrary to the establishment of government-owned central and state universities to provide quality higher education without any bias. In reality, the proliferation of coaching institutes with multi-million dollar businesses cannot be stopped. Even if it is claimed otherwise, the students are going to be the casualties.

The solution lies in catering to the different circumstances that students are subjected to due to all kinds of disparities. The computer-based and MCQs-centric exam system needs to be revisited. The intent to centralize the admission process must be given a second thought because, under the NEP 2020, India aims to attain 50% in Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education by 2035, which is impossible without the inclusion of all the stakeholders such as states. There is no denying that an overhaul of the higher education framework is needed. Education is a tool of social mobility. The responsibility of the government to provide and facilitate higher education for its young minds cannot be absolved. After all, the paradigm must be based on providing educational equity in higher education. Anything below these measures is just a placebo, confused for the cure.

The author is a freelance writer and an engineer pursuing an LL.B from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.