NEET guest column: Can’t go back to Boards inflating marks
India will add just over 83,000 new doctors to the pipeline this year – each one will be desperately needed when he/she graduates. The Corona pandemic, not to say a common disease such as dengue, has shown the importance of health practitioners in India.
A centralised exam called NEET or National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test has been created to test eligibility to these 83,075 seats.
Prior to NEET, undergraduate seats in medical colleges or what we call MBBS admissions were done on the basis of marks in the school boards or through different entrance exams. While this may appear decentralised and laudatory to some, there were problems with the previous system. There was lots of inflation of school board marks especially in the practicals where individual schools have a say. This led to undeserving students getting into medical colleges.
I myself, in 25 years of post-graduate medical teaching, have sometimes taught students where I felt the student was a blank slate and did not know up to the mark. This makes a teacher’s job frustrating.
A centralised exam introduces some uniformity in the level of learning that students have before they enter MBBS courses. This is important for a country with wide disparity.
The Tamil Nadu government, because of student suicides, wants to opt out of NEET. The reason given is that students have to pay heavy fees in coaching classes to prepare for NEET exam. Prior to NEET, Tamil Nadu allowed students admission in MBBS on the basis of 12th class board exams.
The question is do we have very good-quality teachers in the schools to train students. Will state governments improve the efficiency of school teachers by giving them extra training? If they convert one ordinary teacher to a Dronacharya then that Dronacharya creates thousands of Arjuns. Our country doesn’t lack students who can become Arjun but we lack Dronacharyas. If high-quality teaching happens in schools, students don’t need to seek coaching. Also, then board exam marks don’t need to be inflated.
There is something else state governments can do to ensure cheaper medical education – build more government-owned medical colleges.
Every medical aspirant in India has two types of medical colleges to choose from. The first are the government colleges: cheaper, affordable but difficult to get in. The second type is the private medical colleges: far more expensive, with an annual fee of several lakhs.
Of 562 medical colleges in India, 286 are taxpayer-funded or government-owned while 276 are run by private owners.
Of the private colleges, maximum number are in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.
In taxpayer-funded colleges, 85% seats are reserved for qualifying students of that state. Only 15% are for students from other parts of India. So state governments are not getting a raw deal in NEET; the exam continues to give preference to students of that state in taxpayer-funded colleges.
Maybe state governments should focus on increasing number of government-run colleges in their state, funded by taxpayers, so students don’t have to pay high fees of medical education. This will help build a debt-free future for our doctors.
Dr Mukesh Bhatia is a graduate of Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) Delhi, and a post-graduate in internal medicine. He has run the Dr Bhatia Medical Coaching Institute for 25 years which offers coaching for the post-graduate NEET/USMLE/ MRCP. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org