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Ethical Considerations in the NEET 2024 Controversy

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The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) – Undergraduate (UG) has long stood as a crucible for India’s aspiring medical professionals. NEET was introduced by the Government of India and conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA), NEET aims to standardise the admission process, ensuring a uniform and transparent evaluation of candidates. The test assesses students’ knowledge in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, serving as a critical gateway for those seeking to enter the medical profession and ensuring that only qualified candidates gain entry into these competitive fields.

This high-stakes examination not only determines the academic futures of millions of students but also underscores deeper ethical issues in the realm of educational assessment and fairness. The recent controversies surrounding NEET 2024—ranging from inflated scores to procedural anomalies—underscore the urgent need for a rigorous ethical review of its processes.

The Ethical Implications of Score Inflation

The most contentious issue in NEET 2024 is the inflation of scores and ranks, resulting in an unprecedented concentration of top ranks. Sixty-one candidates achieved perfect scores, significantly exceeding the number of seats available in India’s premier medical institute, AIIMS, New Delhi. Furthermore, around 22,000 candidates scored above 90%, and 80,000 surpassed the 83% mark, equating to the total seats in government medical colleges across the country.

From an ethical standpoint, the inflation of scores presents several critical issues. Firstly, it undermines the principle of meritocracy. The primary purpose of NEET is to differentiate candidates based on their knowledge and aptitude for medical studies. When scores are inflated, the ability to discern between truly exceptional candidates and those who are merely good becomes blurred. This not only demotivates students who might have genuinely excelled but also creates a misleading representation of academic excellence.

 

Transparency and Fairness in Competitive Examinations

The core of the controversy lies in the scoring distribution. Traditionally, competitive examinations aim for a long-tailed distribution to ensure a nuanced differentiation among candidates. The short-tailed distribution seen in NEET 2024 raises concerns about the integrity of the ranking process managed by the National Testing Agency (NTA). A skewed distribution can lead to unjust advantages or disadvantages, making the selection process less fair and transparent.

The ethical question here is about trust. Stakeholders—including students, parents, and educational institutions—must trust that the examination process is fair and unbiased. When anomalies occur, such as unexpected score inflation, this trust is eroded. The NTA’s responsibility is not only to conduct the exam but to ensure that its processes are transparent and equitable. This involves clear communication about scoring methodologies and timely resolution of discrepancies.

Addressing Tie-Breaking Rules and Procedural Fairness

Another issue in NEET 2024 is the efficacy of tie-breaking rules. In scenarios where multiple students score perfectly, the current hierarchical rules based on subject scores, age, application number, or random selection are brought into question. While these rules might suffice under normal circumstances, the unique situation of numerous perfect scores exposes their limitations.

Ethically, it is crucial to design a tie-breaking system that upholds fairness and minimises arbitrariness. Random selection or reliance on criteria such as age or application number may appear random or unfair to the candidates. Developing more sophisticated methods, possibly incorporating additional assessments or criteria that better reflect the candidates’ potential, might be necessary to uphold fairness.

The Impact of Procedural Anomalies and Grace Marks

The NEET 2024 also saw controversy over the awarding and subsequent scrapping of grace marks for time loss. Initially, the NTA followed a Supreme Court-endorsed process for awarding grace marks, later recommending a re-test instead. While the Supreme Court found the NTA’s recommendations fair, the situation highlights a deeper ethical dilemma: how to address procedural anomalies in a manner that is just and consistent.

Grace marks, while intended to compensate for unforeseen disruptions, can be perceived as unfair advantages, particularly if they significantly alter the ranks. The decision to opt for re-tests is ethically more sound, as it provides all affected candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities under fair conditions.

Broader Ethical Issues: Paper Leaks and Institutional Integrity

Beyond procedural anomalies, NEET 2024 faced allegations of paper leaks, cooperative copying, and other forms of malpractice. These issues, which fall under the purview of investigative agencies, point to systemic vulnerabilities. Ethically, safeguarding the integrity of the examination process is paramount. This involves stringent measures to prevent leaks, robust invigilation protocols to curb cheating, and ensuring that exam centres are distributed fairly to avoid regional biases.

The Role of the Coaching Industry

The trillion-rupee coaching and admission counselling industry plays a significant role in the NEET ecosystem. The unusual score patterns in NEET 2024 disrupted the predictive models of these businesses, leading to widespread dissatisfaction. While the primary responsibility for fair examination lies with the NTA, the coaching industry also bears ethical responsibility. It should aim to support students’ genuine learning and preparation rather than merely teaching to the test.

Moving Forward: Ethical Reforms and Systemic Improvements

To prevent the recurrence of the issues seen in NEET 2024, continuous and ethical upgrading of the examination system is essential. This includes implementing robust checks and balances, employing advanced statistical methods to ensure fair score distributions, and maintaining transparency in all processes. The NTA must work towards building a resilient system that upholds the integrity of examinations and ensures that the merit of candidates is accurately and fairly assessed.

The Supreme Court’s directive to fine-tune selection processes year after year is a crucial reminder of the dynamic nature of educational assessments. As societal expectations and technological capabilities evolve, so too must the methodologies of large-scale examinations like NEET. This ongoing evolution must be guided by a steadfast commitment to ethical principles: fairness, transparency, and integrity.

Conclusion

The NEET 2024 controversy underscores the complex ethical landscape of competitive examinations in India. From score inflation to procedural anomalies, each issue highlights the need for a transparent, fair, and resilient examination system. Upholding the ethical principles of meritocracy and fairness is not merely about resolving immediate concerns but about fostering long-term trust and integrity in the educational assessment process. As stakeholders navigate these challenges, a concerted effort towards ethical reforms and systemic improvements will be essential in maintaining the sanctity and credibility of examinations like NEET.

 

Fr. Carlos Luis SAC
Fr. Carlos Luis SAC
Carlos Luis is a Pallottine Priest born and brought up in Varca, Goa. He is an avid book critic, blogger, poet, and short story writer. He is the author of 'Rays and Ripples' (2016), 'Silent Whispers of Winter' (2017), and 'Suenito' (2022). Currently, he is a freelance journalist for the 'Gomantak Times' and the associate editor of 'Pallottine Call' magazine.

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