NEET and the needless pain

I was skimming through my news feed and for no reason, I was reminded of Carl Sagan. I repeated his words in my head – “We will know which stars to visit. Our descendants will then skim the light years, the children of Thales and Aristarchus, Leonardo and Einstein”. I glanced again at the piece of news I was reading and I was overcome by a sickening pain. The news was all about the NEET fiasco.

A wise man once told me that if a student can write his own application with little or no help, that is an indication of empowerment. Even after years of education, if you struggle to fill a basic form, it only means that your education has failed you. I wonder what has education done to all those who failed to read the guidelines on dress code for this year’s NEET exam. Well, that is just one part of the issue. On the other side is the irony that we have enough technology to get past the gravity and venture into the outer space, but not enough technology to conduct an exam without having to put the students through the discomfort of a mandated dress code. “To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”, reads the Indian Constitution when it comes to Fundamental duties. Probably the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) needs a refresher on scientific temper so that they stop depending on dress codes to contain cheating in exams.

This whole episode of dress code for exams reminded me of another one of such ridiculous incidents where a minister, a district collector, a chief engineer and the entire public works department made  mockery of themselves by deciding to cover the Vaigai dam with 300 sheets of thermocol to prevent evaporation. The interesting part of the story was that a good ten lakh rupees was supposedly allocated for those 300 sheets of thermocol. Of course, the sheets found their way back to the shore even before the coracle that was employed to spread the sheets returned to the shore. While a minister being this foolish isn’t surprising, I am disgusted that an entire department with all its experienced engineers did not validate the idea.

Do you remember the urban legend that said Russians used pencil in space while NASA was spending heavily on designing a space pen? It was quite an interesting tale to listen to as a kid but unfortunately many of us did not grow past the tale. I am bound to believe that the ones who came up with these dress codes and thermocol sheets as solutions are probably some of those who continue to believe that NASA was stupid to have not tried a pencil in space. I agree that some ideas might not work but this level of stupidity is unfathomable. And who is to be blamed for such lack of rationale? I might be wrong but every time I think this over I find myself accusing our system of education for such hapless situation.

In India, we have more than 50 different State boards, then the CBSE, the CISCE and finally the International Boards too. It goes without saying that the standard of education across these boards differ by varying degrees. Politics and the ruling government’s ideological leaning play a huge part in deciding the curriculum in most of these boards. The students of the state boards suffer a sub-standard education thanks to the political play in these states. There might be exceptions, but one cannot deny that the quality of education is not the same across the country. While we have not ensured equality in the quality of education for all at school level, how fair is it to have a common entrance for higher education?

One cannot deny the significance of a competitive exam to screen the contesting candidates to ensure that only the deserving candidate gets the opportunity to pursue the course. It is important to empower the more deserving candidate for a better future of the nation. But then, this can happen only when all the contesting candidates have been provided equal opportunity to avail the best of education in the country. There are states who blindly oppose the idea of NEET, which in my opinion is unacceptable. The states must rather improve the standard of curriculum in their respective boards and ensure that the students are competent enough to contest at par in a common screening test. The ruling governments in some states gamble with the system of education with an excuse of reducing the burden on the students. While I am very much in favor of reducing the burden on students, I also believe that reducing the burden doesn’t mean teaching them way less than what they are capable of learning.

The quality of education need not necessarily be decided by the number of books in the curriculum or the numbers, the students score in various exams. However, any system of education must make learning an exciting experience for the learner. Have you ever looked up at the sky and studied the stars? Do you remember waiting for the touch-me-not plant to open its leaves? Have you wondered why is your breath warmer when you blow with your mouth open whereas it is comparatively cooler when your blow through a smaller pout? Have you watched an earthworm move? Ever wondered why pregnant women do not trip despite the bulging belly? Did you happen to see the physics behind that sixer that your favorite cricketer hit? The list is not limited, but all I meant to ask was did your education make you inquisitive? Did your education enhance your imagination and enable your creativity? Did your education make your more aware? Or did it just dump you with a load of insignificant data and took away your ability to process them the right way?

Again, Carl Sagan’s words echoed in my head- “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”. If one hasn’t had some of those questions, then I wonder if one is truly educated. In my opinion, if you haven’t learned to question, then your education hasn’t yet begun.

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