Time for course correction in the conduct of exams

The National Testing Agency has announced the new dates and computer mode for the University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test 2024 June session exam between August 21 and September 4,  the Joint CSIR UGC NET from July 25 to 27, the NCET on July 10. The fresh dates,  the constitution of a committee, the CBI tasked to probe the irregularities in the conduct of important examinations like NEET, and the removal of  Subodh Kumar Singh from the post of Director General of the NTA shows the government’s intent. The NEET medical entrance exam in which a record 24 lakh candidates appeared is now under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and various agencies. The cancellation of the UGC-NET examination a day after it was conducted comes as a huge embarrassment for the Centre which has conceded that the integrity of the examination may have been compromised. The recent decisions come on the heels of a resurgent opposition repeatedly raising the paramount issue in Parliament.  

Tehelka’s cover story, “Examination Mafia” by our Special Investigation Team reveals malpractices that have crept in and how a widespread network is compromising the integrity of the examination system with several candidates from select centers securing unusually high marks. The Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024, also known as the anti-paper leak law, has come into effect but is it enough?  The frequent leak of question papers indicates the need for a complete revamp to restore public trust. Amidst the growing use of artificial intelligence, the threat becomes even more imminent. The NTA was established in 2017 but even after all these years, the agency has failed to evolve a fool proof system, unlike the UPSC which conducts the Civil Services examinations, the examination to NDA, and other equally prestigious examinations without compromising the security. So what is amiss? Some measures that may help include: raising the quantum of punishment from three to at least 10 years, time-bound decisions in fast track courts, blacklisting coaching institutes involved in any paper leak scam, debarring candidates involved in cheating from all future examinations, and shunning the practice of appointing members of testing bodies on the basis of political affiliations.

There is a need for politicians of all hues and all stakeholders to sit together to brainstorm to find a solution because it’s a question of the future of the country. Scrapping NTA or similar institutions is not the answer but fixing inadequacies is. Indeed there is a question mark over the credibility of the NTA. Cancellation and postponement of examinations can take a heavy toll on candidates’ and their families’ mental and emotional well-being. There is a need for a nationwide debate because education and unemployment are at the heart of the issue and the trust deficit must be bridged so that candidates and their families don’t feel betrayed.