The Central government’s move to bring out an ordince to defer NEET for a year will doubtless give a breather to state board students taking pre-medical tests. Over 14 states including Assam have been arguing that state board students couldn’t be expected to prepare well for an unfamiliar exam in such short notice. Besides, the CBSE would design and administer the tiol Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET); considering the variance in CBSE and state board syllabi, the NEET would only end up giving an unfair advantage to CBSE, English medium students over state board, vercular medium students. Faced with such outcry from states, the Central cabinet has decided to go for an ordince to allow state boards to conduct their own medical entrance tests this year. The exception is only for the current academic year; from next year onwards, students of all boards across the country will have to sit for NEET. As for Central institutes and private medical colleges, the NEET scores will be applicable this year itself. The cabinet decision therefore ‘partially sets aside’ the Supreme Court order mandating all government colleges, deemed universities and private medical colleges to be covered under NEET from this year. Accordingly, the first phase of NEET was held on May 1 as AIPMT, while the second phase has been scheduled for July 24. Meanwhile, the NGO Sankalp Charitable Trust, which petitioned the apex court for a uniform pre-medical test, has warned that it will challenge the Central ordince.
If it gets promulgated, the ordince will give states sufficient time to study the apex court ruling and absorb its implications. Firstly, there is the question of language in which NEET papers will be set. It is in the fitness of things that apart from English and Hindi, question papers should be set in vercular languages. In Assam, the AASU and other organizations have insisted that the NEET must not put into disadvantage Assamese medium students. But we should not lose sight of what comes after clearing the test and getting admission — the reality that MBBS course is taught only in English. State governments must therefore apply their minds not only to eble vercular medium students to take the NEET, but also to negotiate MBBS in English thereafter. Secondly, differences between the CBSE and state syllabi must be fully ironed out, and the textbooks prepared within deadline this year. Next, how can the urban bias be offset when it comes to uniform countrywide tests? It is all very well to ask for a common pre-medical test on the lines of pre-engineering tests like JEE or AIEEE. But it is a fact that urban students with expensive private coaching have a definite edge over their rural counterparts in such examitions. Maharashtra Education minister Vinod Tawde recently spoke about planning free multi-media coaching to equip state board students for NEET through desigted government website, Doordarshan channel, YouTube and cable TV. Can the Assam government devise effective means to reach out to medical aspirants in all parts of the state? Once NEET rankings become mandatory, all state governments will have to create their separate merit lists for their students and protect their interests while keeping the selection fair. Last but not the least, medical aspirants need to be clear in their minds about the contours of the intensely competitive NEET they will be sitting for. Those hitherto preparing for state-level entrance tests will require time to scale up their preparations for a countrywide test. It is only fair to give them a chance to prepare well when it comes to their career.