How another entrance exam will turn Indian schools into giant coaching factories

Chickens come home to roost fairly quickly. The Central University Entrance Test, or CUET — to be used as a one-stop shop for admission to undergraduate programs — will kill the school system faster than expected. Registration for the exam opened in early April and closed on the last day of May. The exam is scheduled from July 15 to August 18 and about 10 lakh students have registered.

When the program was announced, I made three observations, which I reiterated during a panel discussion in which the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Mr Jagadish Kumar, also participated.

First, that the CUET “stabbed the final nail in the coffin of examination boards by rendering them irrelevant”. Second, there will be pressures to get rid of long learning and exams, and focus only on the multiple-choice questions that CUET proposes to use.

Finally, that CUET is a huge business opportunity for the coaching industry, which will push into even more areas of school education that were previously untouched by it. This will lead to the usual inequity that poorer students face when accessing coaching courses.

All these observations have since been validated.

In a statement, Kumar then dismissed fears that CUET would render board reviews irrelevant. According to the report, he also said that “the exam simply won’t require coaching, so there’s no question of boosting the culture of coaching.”

We don’t know on what basis this assurance was given when all experience – with regard to every entrance exam – shows that coaching courses coach for anything and everything. A Financial Express report now states that “according to ed-tech players, CUET appears to be becoming one of the largest markets in the educational services sectors”.

A simple internet search for “Coaching CUET” shows how much online and offline coaching is already available, ranging from small centers to big players such as Aakash and Unacademy.

Unsurprisingly, an affiliated college of Delhi University, Ramanaujan College, even set up a coaching class for CUET. She did not take into account the conflict of interest since the marks of the examination for which she coaches the students will be used for admission to their own college. The college recanted in the face of a violent backlash. Apparently, the college wanted to offer affordable coaching – Rs 12,000 for the course – compared to private players.

Indeed, concerns about the affordability of CUET coaching are similar to those raised about JEE, or the Joint Entrance Examination for Engineering and NEET, or the National Eligibility and Entrance Test for medical courses.

The many problems range from the fact that these entrance examinations disadvantage students from rural areas and therefore these groups are poorly represented in the admitted cohorts. Additionally, the added costs will prove detrimental to low-income families who may be forced to opt out of the admissions process altogether. It also hurts female students because of the traditional reluctance of many parents to educate girls over boys. So much for inclusiveness.

CUET also re-emphasized the “dummy school”. Such a school has been precisely defined by the coaching classes themselves: “Dummy schools, also known as non-participating schools, are a school where students are admitted in the same way as regular schools, but they are not required to attend regular school classes, so they can focus more on preparing for the JEE/NEET exam.

Worried head teachers report that top performers have asked to be removed from mainstream schools so they can enroll in dummy schools. The parents “explained that they wanted their children to focus on the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), the introduction of which as the sole undergraduate admissions route to central universities has reduced the importance of Class XII board exams”.

What has happened so far for JEE and NEET seekers is now happening, on a larger scale, for CUET seekers as well. The system is hollowed out from the inside, as more and more schools fall into a kind of marriage with coaching classes.

Some political reactions to the idea of ​​CUET are worth noting. The Tamil Nadu government wrote in its appeal to the Union government that “there is no doubt that this CUET, like NEET, will sideline the various school education systems across the country, seriously undermine the relevance of global development-oriented learning. in schools and force students to rely on coaching centers to improve their entrance exam results”.

Tamil Nadu’s reluctance to accept an admissions system that uses a single central exam based on a central syllabus is based on real-life experiences, as captured by data collated by the Rajan Committee, which has been put in place to study the effect of NEET on disadvantaged people. students. The results clearly indicate how this excludes in-state students, i.e. local/regional/in-state talent who want to work within the state.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that market forces will now dictate how schools evolve to approach CUET. Parents openly suggest that practical work and internal assessments that use written exams in schools are useless because they do not help crack the CUET, which is based on multiple-choice questions. Therefore, these should be removed. This logic recommends that schools themselves evolve into gigantic CUET coaching factories.

Instead of being seen as centers of proper holistic education, schools will be transformed into the very beast they were meant to slay. It’s the beginning of the end for basic communication – reading, writing – broad analytical skills and engagement with complex concepts. Ironic indeed, considering that the goals of the new education policy focus on inculcating these same skills.

We don’t have to stay in the CUET prison. It’s never too late to get to the root of the problem – school education and board exams need reform, not the admissions system. Cosmetic tinkering, an abundance of “historic reform” hype, and an inability to face the realities on the ground will only postpone attempts to cure the disease until after it has gotten much worse.

None of the lofty goals set by education policy makers are actually achieved through CUET. The opposite is happening. There comes a time when it is no longer possible to pretend to solve a problem by circumventing it. This time has come. But is anyone listening?

Anurag Mehra teaches engineering and policy at IIT Bombay. Its political objective is to explore the interface between technology, culture and politics.

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