Ever since independence, the Union has always tried to accumulate more and more power for itself in all subjects of eminence – quietly and gradually cutting down the autonomy of the states. The subject of education is no exception. In fact, education is a key factor for development, growth and governance, and hence exercising control over the matter is key for any authority to hold on to power and accumulate more of it. The Union, time and again, meddles with the subject in such a fashion that it encroaches into the space of the states, one step at a time, seizing more powers with every single move.
Obtrusion through National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) is the Union Government’s latest fiasco. NEET is a common entrance test for admission to MBBS and BDS courses that starting from this year, will replace All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT) and all entrance examinations to the above courses conducted by state boards and by private institutions. It will be conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
As we will see further in this article, in the long-term this will deteriorate into a situation, in which the Union holds complete sway over education, and controls and dictates all learning, and development opportunities of our children. Needless to say, this is quite anti-democratic in nature. The subject of education should be with the states, to ensure the jurisdiction of education remains much closer to people. It makes little sense to drive the all-important subject of education through a distant establishment completely disconnected from them.
As with any Union Government undertaking, support for languages has been a concern with NEET. When it was introduced back in 2013, students could take it up in eight languages, i.e., Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, Hindi and English. But this year, when it is made mandatory across the Union, non-Hindi students do not have the option to take up the phase one of the examination in the language of their choice. They can only choose between Hindi and English.
But the phase two of the test is being considered to be conducted in the above mentioned languages. The choices are still limited. There are already concerns that question papers could leak if they are translated to these many languages. Denying the choice of a language not just shows insensitivity towards non-Hindi peoples but also clearly demonstrates operational inefficiencies that were unwarranted in the first place.
Why is it that the Union, in most of its undertaking, time and again comes up with operational and executional excuses to deny support to other languages but has enough resources and forethought to support Hindi, any time and at any place?
Take the Railways, for instance. The Railways has enough money and resources to use Hindi in announcements, tickets, boards, signage etc in all non-Hindi regions of the Union. But when asked for tickets to be printed in Kannada, it either comes with the excuse of lack of funds or operational inefficiencies. The pattern with NEET is similar.
It would not be a surprise if in the near future, the CBSE board puts its foot down and says no more support for ‘regional languages’ in NEET. We often come across the rubbish argument that Hindi and English being widely spoken languages are generally understood by a majority across the Union and that other languages are either not needed or may be left optional. This has been the devious stratagem of the Union in administration and general policy making. Education is no exception.
Of course, the Union Government has expressed concerns over phase I of the examination being only in two languages, English and Hindi, citing the reason that it will impact students from non-Hindi states and those from non-English medium background. But it appears that the far-term vision is to gradually converge towards Hindi and English, rather than invest in all the languages in building strong higher education systems in them.
That the state governments will lose all authority or control over admission to MBBS and BDS courses in their respective states is crystal clear. Take for example, the Gadinaadu Kannadiga and the Horanaadu Kannadiga quota in Karnataka. Will the Government of Karnataka be able to conduct tests and fill-in admission for these quota? Will the CBSE board or the Union Government allow this? Or can the state government submit a plea if it is not permitted as per rules? We do not know for sure. But the state will no more be able to freely take decisions in the interest of its people.
Also, how will the state governments ensure justice to poor and rural students, who mostly do their schooling in the state syllabi? The syllabi of the states are vastly different from each other and from that of the CBSE board. These students are already disadvantaged owing to lack of coaching and guidance. The introduction of NEET will leave them further handicapped.
The states will also lose out the opportunity at restructuring or remodeling the system with novel methods. If a state, for instance, wants to adopt an advanced method of testing, or introduce a new subject it will not be possible any more.
In the long-run the states also stand to lose authority over primary education. With entrance exams coming under the CBSE board, parents would want their children to take up the CBSE syllabus right from early years of schooling. So, this will ensure that there will be very few takers left for the state boards. And the state boards, with decreasing enrollments, will be forced to align with the CBSE board to remain ‘relevant’ and ‘competitive’.
With more schools moving to CBSE, Hindi will be taught more widely in the non-Hindi states. But these schools will not be bound to teach the states’ languages. While the influence of Hindi will increase, the non-Hindi languages will take a beating as lesser and lesser of the young generation of the non-Hindi peoples will have good reading and writing proficiency in their mother tongues.
States like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh etc., did raise a few objections against NEET. But they have all mostly been related to operational issues. Very few, unfortunately, has been against what is fundamentally wrong with the initiative.
NEET definitely needs to be scrapped. But that is not enough. We should ensure that the Union leave education to the states and not get into running the affairs of the subject. That requires moving the subject, which is now on the Concurrent List back to the State List (education was in the State List, but was moved to the Concurrent List during the time of emergency).
This is what has given the Union powers to override the policies of the states on education. It is unsure if the current wave of protests will stop NEET. Regardless, the states and its peoples should identify this fundamental fallacy and work towards getting education back to the State List.