The Central Government plans on implementing a Common Entrance Exam for undergraduate courses in around 40 central universities starting from the academic year 2021-2022. A seven-member committee to provide recommendations for its implementation will be set up, under the leadership of the Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Punjab, R P Tiwari. The Committee is said to submit a report by January next year, after which the decision to carry on with the exams will be made by March 2020.
The exam was first introduced in the newly approved National Educational Policy 2020. It is said to be a “high-quality common aptitude test” along with a subject-specific section, whereby students can choose the subjects they want to apply for. The exams will be conducted twice a year and under the governance of the National Testing Agency (NTA).
While looking into how this has been framed by the NEP, it mentions the setting up of the common exam as a move to reduce the burden of academic performance on students. The class 12 board exams will not carry the same weight when it comes to admissions, owing to the new mode of common entrance. Members of The Education Ministry mentioned how the exam will allow students to apply for multiple courses and universities at once. The burden of traveling for multiple exams is also said to diminish. This claim of being ‘student-centric’ and providing more accessibility, comes across as contradictory when looking at the criticisms of the NEP. Many have mentioned how the NEP has put forth a number of exclusionary mechanisms in its push for more privatization and vocational learning in schools and higher education.
Does Having a Common Entrance Exam Really Reduce Student Burden?
When looking into the matter of reducing the burden of students, while it does aim to take the pressure away from the board exams, this comes at the cost of making students sit for yet another centralized exam.
Rather than questioning country-wide standardized testing, in a country so varied along linguistic, cultural, and socio-economic lines, simply introducing another standardized exam might not be the most effective means of reducing the burden.
The government has also mentioned how the exam will allow for students to move away from tuition centers, but this could be the perfect opportunity for the ever-growing industry of coaching classes and tuitions to set up shop.
The Dangers Of Having One Common System
It is important to keep in mind the larger phenomenon of centralization of universities and university educational atmospheres, envisaged in the NEP while looking at the common exam.
The establishing of the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NEHRA) aimed at conflating the UGC, AICT, and NAAC into one body, creates an unstoppable autonomous body in charge of regulating courses, procedures, the admittance of faculty and staff, the terms of “good governance”, and other administrative roles.
Extending the thrusts given towards vocational education by the NEP, curricula run the risk of taking on a more skill-based and problem-solving approach. Critical thinking within the classroom could then easily fizzle out through this process, where you are taught how to be employable instead of the different ways of thinking.
PM Modi described exactly this when he said the NEP will encourage students on ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’.
Understanding the NTA and the Common Entrance Exam in this context will allow for a clearer vision of some of the dangers it poses. The exam could act as a way for the government to set the terms with respect to content, of admission into colleges at the undergraduate level.
Again, bringing back the constant thrust towards vocational and occupational education, the entrance exam will mark the path both students and central universities will have to take: one where employability in the market among disciplines is prioritized as opposed to critical thinking.
The diversity among disciplines is also dangerously unaccounted for. Disciplines are often taught and understood differently, and already to a large extent, these differences are ignored by universities in their entrance exams. However, having a single countrywide body deciding the means to gauge one’s competency in a particular discipline, goes a step ahead in such standardization of learning and pedagogical modalities.
It is also important to note the BJP government’s history with the imposition and glorification of Brahmanism into educational systems, in the name of ‘Indianising’ or ‘localizing’ education.
This is present especially in fields such as history, literature, sociology, etc., whereby narratives demonizing Muslims, denial of the caste system, and glorification of Brahmanical practices and traditions have been seen in text-books.
With the NTA being the central body now in charge of entrances into central universities, we can expect questions along the same Brahmanical lines, whereby the ‘Hindu-ness’ and alignment with Brahmanical ideas are tested among students.
Related Read: NEP and the Manuvadikaran of Education- Dr Anil Sadgopal