Restore credibility of national tests - Hindustan Times
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Restore credibility of national tests

ByHT Editorial
Jun 20, 2024 09:33 PM IST

Government must step in and assure aggrieved students of corrective steps, including fair and foolproof exams

Even as questions swirled about the efficacy of this year’s National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical education, the Centre cancelled the University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) a day after it was conducted, saying that the “integrity” of the process may have been compromised. A little over 900,000 aspirants will have to take the test again, while the NEET imbroglio has left around 2.4 million aspirants in a flux even as counselling is set to begin. Central to both episodes is the competence of the National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducts both the tests, and, as a corollary, the impact on aspirants’ trust in a clean, fair testing process. The government needs to act quickly to restore this trust, given national entrance exams remain a key ladder for millions of students to ensure a decent future for themselves and their families, and therefore, carry enormous burdens of aspiration. As exams that select the country’s future doctors and professors, they also remain key to shaping the country’s future.

Lucknow, Jun 20 (ANI): A scuffle broke out between the police and National Students' Union of India (NSUI) supporters and students during a protest demanding the resignation of Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan over the alleged paper leak in the UGC NET exam, in Lucknow on Thursday. (ANI Photo) (Naeem Ansari)
Lucknow, Jun 20 (ANI): A scuffle broke out between the police and National Students' Union of India (NSUI) supporters and students during a protest demanding the resignation of Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan over the alleged paper leak in the UGC NET exam, in Lucknow on Thursday. (ANI Photo) (Naeem Ansari)

Unfortunately, that trust has now been sullied. Despite the government’s assurances, questions linger about the processes followed by NTA and the safeguards built into the system. This calls for independent and transparent investigations and a public acknowledgement of the missteps. NTA and other stakeholders can then attempt to fix the gaps. Beyond this, there is a need to make the testing framework less vulnerable, indeed foolproof, to leaks and other malpractice. To start with, effort should be made to ensure that the paper-and-pen format involving physical question papers and OMR sheets yields to computer-based tests (CBTs), as is the global practice. This takes care of question paper leaks from printing presses and test centres. Coupled with measures such as real-time tracking and limited connection time with the internet – to address the vulnerabilities of CBTs -- this can also minimise chances of manipulation or subversion of the testing process. At the same time, shifting to multiple-choice questions that test a deep conceptual understanding of a subject can also negate subjectivity that is typical of manual assessment, at least at the preliminary level of screening. Then there are secondary ways in which the eroded trust can be repaired -- from greater sharing of anonymised performance data, detailed analyses of scoring, and using technology and psychometric analysis to reduce cheating.

At the same time, the government and NTA must engage with this year’s aspirants, ensure that the disruption to their careers is minimal, and be as open in fixing lacunae as possible. The imperative to do this quickly cannot be overstated. At stake is the future of India’s young people, and what can be more important than that?

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