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Tamil Nadu: Soft quota option

August 20, 2020

Responding to insistent demand, an ordinance providing a 7.5 percent reserved quota in Tamil Nadu’s 41 government and private medical colleges for students of state government higher secondary schools who top the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission into the country’s 542 medical colleges, was issued on July 14

According to a government spokesperson, this decision which carves out a “quota within a quota” for government school students, is based on the recommendations of a committee headed by P. Kalaiyarasan, former judge of the Madras high court. The panel proposed reservation between 7.5-10 percent for class XII schoolleavers graduating from government schools affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Board of Secondary Education (TNBSE). In effect, it means that of the total number of students from Tamil Nadu who pass NEET, the top 7.5 percent from government schools will be admitted into Tamil Nadu’s government and private medical colleges, at the expense of students ranked higher in NEET.

This ordinance has been passed after widespread protests that students of government schools were at a disadvantage when writing NEET. In this connection, it’s noteworthy that when NEET was introduced in 2017 to determine admission into all medical colleges countrywide, it evoked widespread protests in Tamil Nadu and even provoked the suicide of a student who topped TNBSE, but failed to qualify under NEET. Therefore on March 21, chief minister E.K. Palaniswami announced the provision of a sub-quota in medical admissions for government school students who clear NEET.

“Between 2009-2016, less than 1 percent of government school-leavers were admitted into medical colleges in Tamil Nadu. In private colleges too, of the 6,132 seats filled in those years, only 65 were awarded to students of government schools. After the introduction of NEET in 2017, government school students are getting only one or two seats. The quota of 7.5 percent is a huge boon for government school students. On the other hand, an equivalent number of merit students ranked above them in NEET will be excluded. But if the government increases the total number of seats in the state’s medical colleges, these students can also be admitted,” says Manickavel Arumugam, an alum of the Guindy Engineering College, National University of Singapore and currently a Chennai-based career counsellor.

However, some academics believe that the quota-within-quota legislated by the state government is a temporary band-aid solution. “The appropriate response is to raise teaching-learning standards in government schools. Unless there is knowledge applicationbased teaching in government schools, there will be widespread resentment against quotas and reservations in their favour,” warns Sudha Malini, principal of the CBSE-affiliated RMK Senior Secondary School, Thiruverkadu, which has 1,700 students and 90 teachers on its muster rolls.

The poor learning outcomes of children in Tamil Nadu’s 37,500 government schools is the result of decades of government interference with teacher recruitment, lack of accountability and language learning politics. “It needs to be analysed why government school-leavers are struggling to get admission in medical colleges. The plain truth is that most of them don’t have laboratories which have become very important as the MBBS syllabus has been revised. Due to non-availability of proper infrastructure and teacher accountability and confusion about medium of instruction issues, almost 50 percent of the 37,500 government schools in the state have recently switched the medium of instruction from Tamil to English. But the very same teachers continue to teach them. How can these children fare well in competitive national exams such as NEET?” queries ATB Bose, general secretary of Association of Managements of Private Schools of Tamil Nadu.

On the other hand, Dr. Suresh Babu, professor of economics at the top-ranked IIT-Madras, interprets the special quota for government school children in state medical colleges as an initiative to stem the continuous exodus of students to private schools. “This reserved quota is an initiative to brighten the image of government schools. In recent years, there’s been large scale migration of students from government to private schools. In the southern districts of Tamil Nadu like Kanyakumari, private schools are thriving. Therefore, the state government is trying to give incentives such as cash awards and special coaching to government school children writing NEET,” says Babu.

A more enlightened response of the government and educracy of Tamil Nadu would be to carefully study and implement the numerous K-12 school reforms contained in the National Education Policy 2020. Strong emphasis on early childhood care and education and foundational literacy and learning for all children in the 3-8 age group by 2025, is the hard but preferable option to ensure that talented school-leavers won’t need quotas and reservations.

Shivani Chaturvedi (Chennai)

Also read: Tamil Nadu: Grim future – Tuition fees

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