Pen-paper entrance exam, not a NEET solution

In India, most aspiring households still view competitive exams as all that stand between their child and an assured future – the most sought after ones being JEE and NEET.
Image courtesy: Twitter
Image courtesy: Twitter


But the pandemic crisis has made it abundantly clear that it’s not just about a good career anymore. The country needs many more doctors, scientists, researchers, and healthcare workers. And these are not jobs where one can churn out an assemblyline of professionals, who can be pulled into service in times of crisis.
In 2019, 15 lakh students registered for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). In 2020 the registrations were close to 16 lakh, the increase attributed to a new rule where NEET is required even for students who plan to study medicine overseas. Also, admissions to two premier institutes - AIIMS and JIPMER which earlier used to have their own entrance exams - were brought into the NEET ambit. However, the ongoing lockdown has left all our aspiring doctors in limbo because the entrance exam has been postponed to the end of May. And the question on the minds of all stakeholders is how the admission process will be impacted if the lockdown is prolonged further.
This is why it’s important to question the method in which the NEET exam has been conducted so far. In July 2018, the MHRD proposed that the 2019 exam would be an online, computer-based test. However, they soon realised that the country’s infrastructure was far from ready, and they back-pedalled rapidly to the old pen and paper format. It was cited that candidates from rural areas were not prepared to take the exam online. The exam process also came under fire when female students complained about being invasively frisked by officials at the examination centres. There were several instances of students being allotted test centres far from their hometowns, forcing many to travel to other states.
When the country has been forced to go digital by literally getting pushed into the deep end of a crisis, it would be a good time for the MHRD to re-examine the way this crucial entrance exam is being conducted. With the right encryption, authentication and security tools, there is a very real possibility that students can take the exam in a secure setting, possibly even from their own homes or nearby centres. Students should only need to focus on preparation and not worry about the dress code and commute. An online test which could be monitored remotely with the right audiovisual set-up could make the old-fashioned format of examination halls, invigilators and pen-paper test a relic of the past.

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