Home Education Editorial The tide of growing mistrust in National Testing Agency (NTA) needs to be reversed

The tide of growing mistrust in National Testing Agency (NTA) needs to be reversed

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Union Education Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, is facing his first major political and administrative challenge in three years since he took the office as the Education Minister in 2021. The mess created by the reports of malpractices in the conduct of various entrance examinations by National Testing Agency (NTA under the ministry) leading to retests and cancellations in recent weeks, is fast mobilizing adverse public opinion on the issue.

This year, so far four examinations—NEET-UG, UGC-NET, CSIR-UGC-NET and NEET-PG—have been affected and in at least two of them (NEET-UG, UGC-NET) paper leak is nearly confirmed, while as the other two have been cancelled/postponed citing logistic or other reasons. After confirming that certain cases of alleged irregularities / cheating / impersonation / malpractices have been reported in the NEET(UG) Examination on 5th May 2024 in OMR (Pen and paper) mode, the ministry has ordered a CBI probe. “For transparency on the conduct of the examination process, the Ministry of Education, Government of India after a review has decided to entrust the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for comprehensive investigation,” said a statement released by the ministry.

NTA created in November 2017 for conducting a wide range of national-level examinations such as JEE Main, NEET-UG, UGC NET, CMAT, and many others was essentially formed to standardize and streamline the process of conducting entrance exams efficiently and transparently across the country. But today those very objectives are under scanner.

Combined with other job-linked public examinations marred by similar rigging in the recent past, the public trust in fair and transparent conduct and administration of such large-scale examinations has hurt the youth sentiment and confidence. As a result, widespread anger and protests are taking place. Opposition parties, especially the Congress, has ceased the opportunity and attacked big on the ruling BJP with its leader, Rahul Gandhi, directly blaming what he called as the destruction of education system on ideological and mediocre people being appointed on key posts in the last decade under BJP.

The Shastri Bhavan (Headquarters of Ministry of Education) running on a docile track first with the NEP deliberation and then Covid pandemic shielding it from public scrutiny of systemic flaws, has suddenly woken up to find and fix them. The challenge, perception and problem have grown beyond a kneejerk reaction as all good work and initiatives are now at the risk of being overlooked for the ‘scams.’

The politicization of public education administration is now an issue from streets to Parliament. From here the minister will have to prove his mettle. A number of steps have been already taken including The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act 2024 being notified, NTA director Subodh Kumar Singh being removed and replaced with an experienced hand, Pradeep Singh Kharola. Also, as said above, CBI inquiry has been initiated into NEET-UG paper leak. The cancellation of exams, can also be read as a step into fixing the system.

While inconvenience, delays, uncertainty, stress and trust issue have rightly enraged the youth community, it has also given an opportunity to the Government to come honest and initiate corrective measures to win back the sanctity of public examinations and assure the country that it has identified the snags in the system and is buttressing it with a credible remedial course.

The argument for having national examinations like NEET has been won after a long legal battle and it still holds the best bet for ensuing fairness in admissions and selections. The Government must take care of making these examinations comfortable for candidates taking them in terms of amenities and facilities on the day of exams at the centres. Several students have flagged the lack of proper seating, toilets, fans etc.

With the Supreme Court hearing case on NEET UG, it is expected that appropriate directions and orders will help reassure aspirants on this examination. The review panel too will exercise its power to better the system. It is better late than never. And, if done with sincerity and desired results, some hardship and delay, could be worth its salt.

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