The preparation stress of students was raised high by scheduling the entrance exam in the month of May and June across the country. It involves careful planning and booking of limited tickets to appear for the limitless tests for professional college admissions. This multiplicity exam syndrome needs to be fixed to avoid student distress and expenses. Can the entrance exam archipelago be broken to create a smooth system that is student-friendly? Yes, here is how, with a little bit of history.
In the US, the evolution of college entrance examination is but more than a 100-year-old germination that stands today as an agent of change. The College Entrance Examination Board was conceptualized in Columbia University in 1900 under legendary Harvard University president Charles Eliot. The present ‘entrance exam anarchy’ we see in India was termed ‘education anarchy’ in the early 1900s where each post-secondary institution had its own entrance exam. Eliot’s common college admission entrance exam was branded elitist in the pre-world war era. However, through a series of post-world war reforms and an evolutionary process of continuous change, the college board continues its research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools. Initiatives like the EQUITY 2000 and Pacesetter & Transition 2000 aim to address the multiple school boards and other institutional factors.
In India, the concept has seen various policy and process changes to accommodate varying degrees of diversity across different states. Some have a purist entrance exam approach, some a mixed-method entrance and school marks and some like Tamil Nadu have only school exams for professional college exams.
NEET changed the system of medical college admissions with many states not being able to adjust to the velocity with which it struck. To ensure a harmonious construct, the National Testing Agency (NTA), as envisaged by the National Education Policy of 1984, was established as an autonomous body in 2018 and now administers JEE, NET, NEET, CMAT, GPAT and more. This national entrance exam asset, when fully operational, aims to develop, administer and assess about 150 lakh candidates annually across the country and abroad, covering more than 500 cities and 5,000 test centres. This is a huge task that needs As much there is no need to overemphasise the need for national entrance exams there is a need to understand each state’s local conditions — academic and social. The NTA needs to create a strategic plan through consultative mechanisms to ensure all stakeholders — state governments, statutory bodies, civic societies, students and parents are taken into confidence to address concerns.
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The first issue is reducing the multiplicity of entrance exams especially by private institutions who set application deadlines to oxygenate their revenue lifelines. To begin, tests like JEE can be made mandatory for deemed universities which seem to be creating the maximum ‘multiplier effect’ in student and parental stress – physical, mental and financial.
When a single exam is being conducted, it is essential to accommodate a substantial regional/state specific content in national tests to ensure there is equitable participation by students from diverse backgrounds. For instance, the American College Board continuously evolves to ensure an inclusive participation to make the college admission system fair to everybody without ivory tower elitism.
Fundamental questions need to be raised on the need for JEE (Advanced), capitation fee, entrance exams becoming more elitist and affordability of access.
All of this takes time and college entrance exam reform is no child’s play nor an overnight remedy. It took more than 150 years for the US to wriggle out of its problems and it still has new problems due to rapid changes in the socio-demographic and educational ecosystem. The latest news that rocked the establishment was the admissions scam in top US universities that Operation Varsity Blues exposed in March.
The story in India is no different but can definitely be differentiated positively by taking progressive steps to achieve equity and excellence concurrently. The easiest way to begin is by making JEE (Main) and its equivalents mandatory for deemed universities. Will NTA 2.0 do it? It’s a worthy wait. (The author is vice-chancellor of SASTRA Deemed University)
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