HC calls NEET anti-poor and defeatist as privately coached students make the cut, not regulars
Are competitive tests really a matter of assessing merit or the privilege of aspirants? As 3,000 candidates cleared the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for MBBS in Tamil Nadu, only a paltry 48 of them made the cut without taking preparatory private coaching classes. So the Madras High Court revived the age-old question, was medical education not for the poor? Rather, was the teaching at government schools about lowest common denominators and not excellence, or their teachers not driven enough to groom students for competitive standards? Unfortunately, medical education in our country has more to do with the economy of higher education. So the court’s observation is only a reminder of this malaise and our inaction to ensure a level-playing field as an enabler of merit. Very few can afford private coaching as the expenses go up to Rs 5 lakh. The court, therefore, went so far as to say that NEET is a disadvantage for the poor as only those who attend private coaching classes secure medical seats.
This throws us back to the tragedy of Anitha, the topper from Trichy, who had a childhood dream of becoming the first doctor in her village. She prepared on her own for NEET, could not qualify and unable to come to terms with her failure, committed suicide. This had triggered a debate on whether State Governments across the country should set up coaching centres in each district to help toppers from poor families prepare for national entrance tests like NEET or JEE. If needed, teachers at government facilities could even be mentored or counsellors trooped in to guide students so that genuine talent could indeed be harvested and nurtured in the interiors. The judges were stentorian in not sparing the Centre, saying while the objective of NEET was to prevent private colleges from making money, they had been replaced by coaching centres instead. Getting a seat in a medical college without coaching is pretty much like being a lone wolf or a motivated self-starter. And for the meritorious who do make it, there are hurdles of reservation and diversity quotas, should they not have the entitlement of caste. In private medical colleges, paid seats form a significant chunk of students at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. This builds an elitism in the system as capitation fees are beyond the reach of a common person. For example, the illegal capitation fee for one MBBS seat is known to have ranged from Rs 50 lakh to a crore and upward for specialities. In such a situation, the common aspirant, who neither has money nor a reserved category, has competitive entrance exams as the only option. But without a specialised training at a coaching centre, that road, too, narrows down quite a bit. And should such candidates make it, they would most likely hope to be absorbed by only government hospitals. That’s another ordeal for young doctors with inhumanly long hours of duty, unsustainable patient ratios per person and absence of adequate facilities. With a public healthcare system in shambles compared to private institutions, the chances of getting a good doctor and infrastructure have truly become a privilege than a right. The court reminded us why we need to review existing systems and prioritise talent and merit for what is essentially meant to be a public service.
Courtesy: The Pioneer