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A common aptitude test for admission into central universities has been proposed, IIT Bombay was the sole Indian representative in the list of top 200 varsities.

Posted on: October 4, 2010

It’s a sensible idea Higher education in India has become extremely formulaic and rigid. Many universities here are more adept at churning out graduates than facilitating research and learning. It is a reflection of things that in the latest QS World University Rankings, IIT Bombay was the sole Indian representative in the list of top 200 varsities. There is an urgent need to initiate reforms and streamline the higher education system. In this context, the proposal to have a common aptitude test, in addition to the class XII board examination, for admission into central universities is a good idea. The test, to judge students’ analytical skills and inclinations, will help standardise the admission process with respect to students from various school boards. It is eventually aimed at easing the burden of multiple subject-specific entrance exams that most colleges conduct.
The present first-past-the-post system, as manifest in admission cut-off lists, promotes rote learning. Students study with single-minded focus on getting a particular score so that they can get into the college of their choice. In most cases that choice is influenced by family and peer pressure. Feeding off this are innumerable coaching centres that guarantee admission into sought-after streams. So, students often end up pursuing courses they have no genuine interest in. A common aptitude test can help universities ascertain if a particular candidate is suited to pursue higher studies in a given subject.
The current examcentric process must gradually give way to a comprehensive system of evaluation that takes into account a student’s overall performance. A common aptitude test is congruent with this thinking. However, care needs to be taken to ensure the autonomy of universities in the admission process, which must be insulated from political influence. We need to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach and start focussing on quality instead of quantity.
Ajay Vaishnav An unnecessary burden Acommittee of vice-chancellors has proposed that students seeking admissions in central universities will have to pass a National Aptitude Test (NAT). As against subject-specific tests conducted by many of these universities, NAT along with class XII scores, will decide the merit of students. Many students, teachers and parents have justifiably opposed this ‘in-principle’ decision of HRD minister Kapil Sibal, to be implemented during academic year 2011-12.
It is difficult to fathom the rationale for NAT. According to Sibal, it aims to test students’ communication and analytical skills. And it is to ensure students who pass by rote learning get filtered out. But such reasoning is contradictory. It doesn’t recognise the self-limiting propositions of NAT. Rote learning at the school level is the result of a mechanical system of grading that ignores the creativity and aptitude of students. Any sensible prescription would focus on the problem at the school level instead of having yet another exam add to students’ burden. Worse, NAT will also create pressure on students in that their future will eventually depend on just these two exams. This shows the government’s lack of trust in its own system. In addition, the possible removal of subjectspecific tests will lower the quality of students in specialised streams.
Besides, the proposal is elitist in the sense that it contradicts the stated objective of increasing university enrolment. Such a system cannot work in Indian society where widespread disparities exist in terms of the standard of education. Would it be possible for students from poor and government schools to compete on an equal footing with students from high-end private schools? Let’s not forget that at stake is the issue of access to higher education, particularly for students belonging to the poor and marginalised sections of society. With exams like NAT, we are creating more stumbling blocks in the path of inclusive education.

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