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  • Talha Sarfraz

CUCET: Adding Fuel Into The Fire?

It is a renowned fact that the Indian Education system has more critics than admirers. There have been attempts to reform and revolutionize it from time immemorial. The Central University Common Entrance Test(CUCET)is one such attempt in the same direction. However, will it be able to achieve what its supposed to? This article delves into a mootable topic and attempts to get closer to the real picture.

How much did you score in your school leaving exam? I am sure some of you remember it to the last decimal point. Some of you don't. Some of you might be thinking how do class 12th marks even matter? And you might be right, they don't. Your school leaving marks do not hold any significance in the long run. But they did matter, and mattered a lot, during college admissions, up until now.

However, this academic year onwards, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has launched a common entrance test for 45 central universities including the likes of prestigious institutions like the University of Delhi (DU), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). While the move has been applauded by many, on the ground that it will provide a level playing field for all the students, it has also faced some sharp criticism from scholars and academicians from all over the country. While the sky-high cutoffs will soon be a thing of the past, many fear that this move will push towards a more coaching-centric culture and will eventually lead to the commercialisation of education.

Commercialization of Education: Who to benefit?

Many of the readers, at some point in their life, might have attended tuition and coaching classes to boost their grades or to make the path to their dream college easy. Coaching might have seemed a feasible option and in the process, they might have come across several advertisements ensuring cent-per cent success just by cracking 'XYZ' entrance exam. With the announcement of CUCET, it is anticipated that the coaching industries' profits will be multiplied like never before. Given that the most significant issue with the coaching culture is its affordability, it is a no-brainer that it will just add more to the divide that we are not able to bridge to date. The same entrance test that promises a level playing field to the students will rejuvenate the debate on the haves and have nots. It will add very generously to more inequity. As these coaching giants are likely to grow, students coming from marginalized and underprivileged sections will be the worst hit, as they would not have the same level of opportunities to compete with.

Schools to become redundant?

No matter how much everyone criticises coaching centres, with the announcement of the grand entrance examination, the coaching industry is likely to boom. With resources like question banks and mock tests based on the recognised pattern, the focus will be shifted to crack an entrance exam. The objective to learn new skills and gain experience will be left far behind as knowledge will be replaced by superficial information in bits. Not long ago, entrance examinations like JEE and NEET were introduced and they stole the importance of plus two classes for students coming from the science background. A major school dropout trend was witnessed just to attend coaching centres, for it promised a shortcut to instant success. Given the fact that the number of aspiring candidates for CUCET will be in the millions, it is more likely that school would become a formality and board exams more mechanical in their orientation. Whatever little learning students do in the school might be highly neglected and the expansion of coaching giants will witness a rapid increase.

CUCET: Sustainable in the Indian context?

The CUET is similar to the Standard Academic Test (SAT) conducted by American universities to admit students. As they say, what may fit right for you might not necessarily fit right for others as well. While the one nation one exam idea sounds captivating, is it really so? In a country which is so diverse, not only in terms of languages, rituals, customs, etc. but also in the sense that there is no uniform education pattern, the education metrics varies to a very high degree and there's no equitable distribution of resources. There exists not just a North-South divide but even the education patterns of different boards vary greatly across India. Also, post the pandemic, this divide is further deepened through the digitalisation of education. The genesis of this issue lies in acknowledging the fact that there has been no nationalized education framework and institutions that worked efficiently to ensure zero tolerance towards disparities in the present education system.

There is no doubt that there's an urgent need to do away with the sky-high cut-offs and rote-learning system which focus on grades and not education. The combination of cent-per cent cutoffs and cut-throat competition is lethal, but it also calls for a holistic approach to selecting candidates, not eliminating them. The idea and the intention behind introducing a common entrance test for all Central Universities and doing away with the previous admission procedure should be appreciated, but consideration of the fact that it will not suffice is of equal value.

The national education policy 2020 proposes a common entrance test like the JEE and the NEET with an aim to resolve these issues, but one needs to dig deeper if they really want to reform the present tedious education system. To achieve this via a common entrance test is not ideal, for it will create a cycle of coaching and will leave out those who can't afford it. It will provide an upper hand to those who are financially sound and of course, it will highlight the fact that merit is a by-product of certain socio-economic privileges and not hard work and talent alone.

Where does the solution lie then? Nowhere except in the system itself. The admission process has to be more flexible and student-friendly. Perhaps, a holistic admission process that doesn't consider magical marks as the sole criterion to admit students would be able to resolve this issue to some extent for India needs an education system that is unafraid of change with time and not sceptical to go beyond the methods of considering marks and scores only while admitting students into colleges and universities.

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