I felt really bad to see that the article ‘Malegaon Blast Accused Takes PhD Entrance Test’, which appeared on Sunday, February 27, had focused on an accused in a terrorist attack and given him importance at the cost of other candidates who suffered at the hands of university officials,” said Sunil R Pansare, an assistant professor at the St Francis Institute of Technology in Borivali (W), who appeared for the test in mechanical engineering at the university’s Kalina campus.
Pansare went on to list several problems with the way the test had been conducted: among other things, he said that the application form that had appeared with the original advertisement about the entrance test differed from the one that the university subsequently made available online and that the university had failed to decide the seating arrangement in advance, leading to chaos at thetest centres.
As usual, as an intermediary between readers and the newspaper, I presented this grievance to HT’s higher education correspondent, Kiran Wadhwa, who had filed that report.
She had this to say: “I understand that appearing for the examination has been a difficult process, with the university goofing up at every juncture. But Hindustan Times has, on several occasions, reported about various problems relating to this entrance test.”
I found a report on February 3, for instance, which described how 70 people who had registered for their PhDs between July 2009 and November 2010 were in limbo. While the University Grants Commission had announced in 2009 that all Phd candidates henceforth needed to pass a test, the university then issued the corresponding notification very belatedly — in November 2010. Wadhwa quoted a student as saying that the university had messed up badly and was not really interested in encouraging research.
As for the test itself, Wadhwa said she did check with several centres. “There were 59 papers and centres across the city,” she said. “Nothing seemed drastically wrong, such as students not being allowed to take the test or the wrong questions appearing in the papers. If I had known of all the instances that Pansare has listed I would have definitely taken note of them along with the story on the blast accused.”
To an extent, this might be a commentary on our low expectations of our country’s examination system, because we seem to accept as normal anything short of a major disaster. Still, given that we are stuck with such a system, it’s a journalist’s job to evaluate how big a particular glitch is on the examination equivalent of the Richter scale.
After all, newspapers might devote most of their front pages to an earthquake and tsunami of a magnitude that struck Japan on Friday, but they will not report the mild tremors that are a part of daily life in that earthquake-prone country.
Given the information that the reporter had, based on the people she spoke to in the time she had, she probably decided that the few problems she had come across corresponded to mild tremors. One could, of course, argue that she might have taken note of even these, say in a box within the story, for while minor systemic failures may not have serious consequences, they point to a deeper acceptance of shoddiness and mediocrity.
As for running the story on the undertrial, I agree entirely with Wadhwa, who had this to say: “The blast accused taking the test was a human-interest story that was likely to appeal to a large audience apart from the student community.”
What do you think? Keep writing in.