By Not Upgrading the Science Syllabus to CBSE Standards, Tamil Nadu Failed Anitha

September 04, 2017

Despite scoring 98 percent marks in Tamil Nadu's 12th standard examination, Anitha S. failed to qualify for a seat in a medical college as she secured only 12 percent marks in NEET, the nationwide entrance examination. If Tamil Nadu had upgraded its science syllabus after being put on notice by the courts five years ago, the hardworking Dalit girl would have stood a better chance of fulfilling her dreams, and a life would have been saved, write Sandhya Ravishankar from Chennai. 

 
 

A 17-year-old girl should not have to commit suicide. That too because her dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed by the Supreme Court’s order making NEET compulsory.


But Anitha S. did. In a remote village in Ariyalur district, this young motherless child from an impoverished Dalit family took the extreme step on 1 September, despite waging a fierce battle in the apex court for herself and for thousands of others like her in Tamil Nadu.


NEET or the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test, a single countrywide exam for aspiring students of medicine came into force after decades of litigation, finally in August this year. Tamil Nadu was one of the most staunch opponents of NEET, managing to get interim stays successively since 2012.


Tamil Nadu’s argument, simply put, was that NEET would put thousands of students from government schools and rural areas at a huge disadvantage, stacking them up against their peers from the cities and wealthier backgrounds, who could afford tuition classes to prepare for the exam. The medium of instruction in government schools in the state is Tamil. This was another disadvantage for those seeking to become doctors.


Anitha did not make it through NEET, despite having scored excellent marks in Standard Twelve – 1176 out of 1200. Only 38.84 percent of students from Tamil Nadu even passed the exam this year – a total of 32,570 out of 83,859 students who appeared. Most of these were from curricula other than the state government’s Samacheer Kalvi syllabus.
So What Actually Happened?


While NEET was originally expected to be implemented from 2012 onwards, the Tamil Nadu government’s vehement opposition to it in court, resulted in an interim stay of one year. Hearings dragged on for another four years, precious time for the state government to have gone into high gear and begun training government school students to face NEET.
Other states like Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh did just that. Syllabi were modified to make them more NEET friendly in government schools and slowly batches of students were trained to enable them to face the inevitable NEET.
But in Tamil Nadu, a situation of flux had arrived. Then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa who had come to power in 2011, after announcing the initial rash of welfare schemes, went into a freeze as her 19-year-old Disproportionate Assets case approached the final verdict in 2014. Since 2012 itself, Jaya had faced health issues, preferring to attend to her official duties from her Poes Garden home rather than at the state Secretariat.
In 2014, Jaya was sent to jail, convicted for four years and slapped with a fine of Rs 100 crore. She was forced to resign as a result, serve 21 days in jail and was allowed out on bail as she went on appeal to the Bengaluru High Court. Stand-in Chief Minister O Panneerselvam simply stayed put. Few files moved and the important files regarding upgradation of school education in the state sat on the Chief Minister’s table, gathering dust for three long years.
Though in 2015 Jaya came back as the Chief Minister following a flawed acquittal by the High Court, her health further deteriorated. In September 2016, she was rushed to Apollo Hospital in Chennai and on December 05 that year, she breathed her last.
The struggle for power within the party that erupted subsequently erased from the minds of Tamil Nadu’s legislators any memory of the plight that the students of the state faced.
In 2017, faced with the inevitable implementation of NEET, the confused state government rushed multiple times to Delhi to try to plead for any reprieve from the exam. And Ordinance exempting the state for one year was debated as one solution. The Centre, after initially agreeing that the state government had the power to pass such an Ordinance, suddenly backtracked in the apex court stating that one state alone could not be exempt.
NEET became a reality. Untrained, unprepared and failed by the system, young Anitha wrote the exam. She had been set up to fail from the beginning by those responsible for educating her. Tamil Nadu now rails at the injustice of it all. Fingers are pointed at the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. That the Congress too had a role in making NEET a reality is forgotten. That the state has a responsibility to provide quality education to students like Anitha has gone unquestioned.
In the melee, journalists from outside Tamil Nadu ask – what is this whole Anitha issue? The answer – she is a symbol of how irresponsibility of a government can directly impact young lives.

@sandhyaravishan

(Photo courtesy of New Indian Express)