NEET peparation

New initiative

Print edition : December 07, 2018

Students attending the free NEET coaching classes at a government school in Coimbatore on September 15. Photo: S. SIVA SARAVANAN

Tamil Nadu’s School Education Department rolls out a series of measures aimed at preparing the State’s students for the medical entrance test.

The venue is an engineering college on the outskirts of Chennai. A group of school students listens to a talk over a videoconferencing facility. They raise doubts, which are cleared by a professor from a remote location. More discussions on basic concepts in science subjects take place for a major part of the hour. The students are NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) aspirants, and the effort of bringing school students to an engineering college was coordinated by the State School Education Department.

If there is one defining issue that has affected higher secondary school students across Tamil Nadu, it is NEET, which is the door to professional courses in medicine at the graduate and postgraduate levels. It is a hot political issue in the State and has seen quite a few agitations by students, political parties and other sections of society. The Tamil Nadu government had also approached the Supreme Court for exemption but did not get relief. All appeals to the Narendra Modi government too yielded no result.

The issue was exacerbated after the suicide of a student named Anita, who, despite having scored very good marks in her class 12 board examinations, could not clear NEET and failed to secure admission for a medical degree course. Before NEET was introduced, admission to courses in medicine and engineering were on the basis of marks secured in the board examination.

The government drew a lot of flak for having let down the student, who was held up as a mascot for achievement in the State and who had even filed a case in the Supreme Court. Every year, her death anniversary in September brings back memories of a monumental failure on the part of the State and Central governments.

“We tried to get exemption from [NEET]. But it was not possible. At a policy level we are against NEET, but we have to also take into consideration the fact that this is being implemented across India,” said School Education Minister K.A. Sengottaiyan. Since there is no escaping the test, the State’s School Education Department has taken on the responsibility of preparing students for it.

“For the first time in the country, a State government itself took up the responsibility of training students for NEET. We trained over 8,000 students last year. This year, training is on in 412 centres in the State. As many as 28,000 students are being prepared for NEET. We will not let any child who wants to appear for NEET sit for the examination unprepared. We are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that our students can compete on an equal footing,” the Minister said.

In most States, the route to a medical entrance test is through private coaching institutions. The fees are steep, and at the end of it, if the student does not make it, there is heartbreak. “In Tamil Nadu, we have been able to provide free coaching. We have been able to help families avert this expenditure,” Sengottaiyan said.

Each block in the State now has a coaching centre to prepare students studying in government and government-aided schools. These centres use the VSAT (satellite communication) facility to conduct interactive sessions. All students are provided online and hard copy content to prepare for the test. The government has set apart Rs.19.78 crore this year for this purpose.

It is not the government alone that is working with the students. Some of the 412 centres are in private engineering colleges. The Minister’s personal rapport with these colleges and their attempt to be seen as taking their corporate social responsibility charter seriously combine to provide an atmosphere conducive for learning.

The process of making students NEET-ready does not end with this. The common compliant voiced by academics was that the school curriculum had not been not upgraded for more than a decade. The School Education Department constituted committees to look into upgradation of the curriculum, and the entire school curriculum is now in the process of being revised after a gap of 12 years.

“The focus has shifted towards attainment of quality education. At present, the emphasis is on improvement of scope along with excellence in delivery of education. The curriculum and syllabus have been revised after a gap of more than 12 years for classes 11 and 12 and after more than seven years for classes 1 to 10,” the Minister said.

“The work of writing textbooks has also gained momentum. The ranking system based on marks secured by students has been abolished to curb unhealthy competition among schools, and board examination for class 11 has been introduced to build the students’ capability to face any competitive examination,” he added.

According to him, introduction of information and communications technology (ICT) in schools has been taken up in a big way by establishing high-tech laboratories in all government high schools and higher secondary schools and smart classes in primary and middle schools.

The 2017-18 policy note of the Education Department says: “In order to improve the learning experience of students to face any competitive examination, the government has revamped the higher secondary board examination pattern from the academic year 2017-18.”

It has introduced “board examination for the students of standard 11, and given equal weightage of marks for the board examinations of both standards 11 and 12 with an aggregate of 1,200 marks. Students failing in a particular subject/subjects in standard 11 can reappear in the immediate examination conducted in June/July or along with the papers of standard 12. An internal assessment carrying 10 marks has been introduced in all subjects. The duration of the examination has been reduced from 3 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes.” Apart from this, consolidated mark sheets are issued for classes 11 and 12.

There is an attempt to improve the academic standards of students from the time they attend school. Introduction of English as the medium of instruction and making available textbooks published by the Tamil Nadu Textbooks and Educational Services Corporation are among the steps taken, according to the Department. The books can be accessed at www.textbooksonline.tn.nic.in. Out of 1,000 books published by the corporation, 875 were digitised in 2017-18 through the Tamil Virtual University and uploaded on to www.tnschools.gov.in.

The English-medium initiative seems to be a hit. According to the Department’s statistics, enrolment in English-medium sections has increased considerably. In 2017-18, 6,22,006 children were enrolled in English-medium sections in 12,738 schools. The teachers are trained regularly to teach in English medium.

Will all these steps translate into a better performance by students from Tamil Nadu in NEET next year? The Minister said that he has been on the job for just over a year. He is confident of the students performing well this year. However, he added, once the changes introduced by the Department take full effect, students from the State will corner a major chunk of seats in medical colleges.

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