In the early hours of September 12, as 1,600,000 of the country’s aspirant teens sat for the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test or NEET to win a seat in a medical college, 19-year-old Dhanush hanged himself in Koolaiyur village in Salem district in west Tamil Nadu.
The tragic loss of life, not the first one in the southern state connected to NEET, has reverberated on the federal structure of education in India.
The Tamil Nadu assembly passed a bill yesterday opting out of the joint, centralized entrance exam which pools together aspirant doctors from across the country into one gigantic exercise in the race to win undergraduate seats in medical colleges.
The bill faces a hurdle: it needs a nod from the President of India.
The DMK-led state government, though, is determined to see it through. Not only does the bill have political support from opposition AIADMK, the other major Dravidian party, it knows it has popular support from the people of Tamil Nadu.
Doing away with NEET was also a poll promise of DMK. The DMK wants education to be a state subject rather than something the Modi Government can legislate on. The increased centralization of education has culminated in the NEP 2020, says this piece in The News Minute, when true federalism demands each state have its own education policy. In the United States of America,
the states formulate education policies and fund education; the union government plays a minor role.
A big factor in the people of Tamil Nadu turning against NEET is that the state had a fairly simple admission process for medical colleges before the Union Government-mandated NEET was imposed on the state via a Supreme Court order.
Teens wanting to become doctors worked hard in the 12th class boards and got in.
A centralised entrance exam favours elite kids by requiring expensive coaching, and leaves poor kids behind. A committee formed by the Tamil Nadu government found that NEET had hit students from both rural and urban areas, particularly those whose families earn less than Rs 2.5 lakh a year, and who study in Tamil-medium schools. This has multiple impacts: poor students, frequently also Dalit, have killed themselves as they see no hope of scoring in NEET, putting pressure on the government. The Stalin-led government has also felt that elite and rich students, once they become doctors, will not go back to serve in rural areas, creating a shortage of doctors in the crunch time of a global pandemic.