Monday, 25 July 2016

NET: A Faulty Touchstone - Anjan K Behera, Asst Professor, Department of English

The National Eligibility Test is an examination which has been
mandated by UGC for lecturers and professors in India. Institutions having more NET qualified teachers score well when accredited by NAAC. Conducted by CBSE, the examination has been controversial and is often criticized for being traditional in its mode of testing. This week’s article using a touch of satire and personal anecdotes, highlights a few of the problems present in this testing battery.



NET: A Faulty Touchstone

Education in India is considered to have a certain quality, thus prompting many international students, mainly from the South Asian countries, to migrate and enroll in academic institutions here. India has 47 central universities, 350 state universities, 123 deemed universities, 241 private universities, and thousands of colleges. To ensure maintenance of quality among the teaching faculty, UGC has mandated passing the NET. Candidates who have completed their post-graduation can appear this examination. The test, designed as MCQs, is divided into three sections – the first dealing with general competence and reasoning, and the remaining two test candidates’ subject knowledge. However, as an academician, I am able to point out to several flaws in this test.
Teaching is a skill, which I believe develops over time. A teacher must have a sound knowledge of the subject matter, and this must be complemented with strong communication skills. A teacher must also be able to motivate students to learn and think creatively, and challenge age old norms and traditions. A teacher should also be able to alter pedagogy as per the requirements of the students. The way the same content can be taught for one batch, may not be suitable for the other batch. A teacher must inculcate the use of technology to reach out to students and thus facilitate learning. Then how is it that the examination mandated by UGC tests only one skill of the teacher? Can merely passing NET be an alibi for the teaching proficiency of a person? The image of Mr. M’Choakumchild, the fact obsessed teacher from Charles Dickens’ famed novel ‘Hard Times’, comes to mind. Perhaps he is an ideal teacher, as per UGC norms.
This brings us to the question of how valid the test itself is. In the July 2016 NET, paper two of English had a certain question which got me thinking, which era does UGC think we reside in? This question gave four choices and asked which of the listed writers were born in India. We live in a tech savvy world, where facts like these can be looked up online anytime we want. Also, how relevant is knowing the birthplace of a writer, keeping in mind that modern criticism values author fallacy, in which the readers need not depend on the author’s intended meaning. The reader is free to interpret a work, as postulated by Roland Barthes; the author ‘dies’ once he is done writing. Learning by heart the birthplace of the millions of writers would make perfect sense if we lived in the Vedic ages teaching in Gurukulas where there was no electricity, no internet, and no access to online resources. The NET is plagued with such similar questions.
NET examines candidates based primarily on rote memory. When a test which is given the task of examining teachers is based on memorization skills, one can only imagine what kind of an education environment is being encouraged in India. Are we curbing creative thoughts and free thinking? In the US, Praxis exams are administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and used by over 40 states as indicators of knowledge and skill for aspiring teachers. They measure a candidate’s ability to analyze and comprehend texts, their ability to articulate thoughts and communicate effectively through writing, and their subject-specific teaching skills and knowledge. This examination also has essay type questions which test a candidates reasoning and deductive skills. In comparison to NET, this system of testing appears to be more relevant.
It is a known fact that the pass percentage in NET is low, which is astonishing considering that candidates who appear this examination have been already tested and found qualifying in their post-graduation. When a candidate who is found tested by a system validated and accredited by UGC, how is it that so many of them aren’t able to qualify NET? Does then the flaw lie in the very structure of education itself?
The July 2016 NET examination introduced new rules for candidates, including reaching the exam centre two hours in advance. No cell phones allowed, okay that’s understandable. However, candidates were in for a shock when they reached the exam centre. Metal detectors scanned all candidates and they were asked to remove all jewelery and submit it at the checking booth. Food packets candidates had brought had to be left outside the entrance of the building. I was stunned when the officials, acting under directions of CBSE-UGC, asked me to leave my water bottle behind. I do not get the logic behind this. Maybe CBSE-UGC thought I may hide a tiny state-of-the-art ‘James Bond type’ communication device inside my ring, but what about water? An examination lasting for more than four hours, with no water, in the summer heat. Was I going to cast a spell on the invigilators with my water?
If only the airports in America had similar security measures in 2001, then perhaps the 9/11 terror attacks could have been avoided.

Articles published in newspapers and blogs around the country have indicated that there is a growing awareness of the flaws which NET seems to embody with no regrets. There are several controversies surrounding NET. This being said I do have the utmost respect for everyone who qualifies this examination. Until UGC comes up with a more efficient and non-traditional method of testing candidates, thousands of aspiring teachers will appear this examination, clad in simple clothes, without water, testing their rote memory skills. Perhaps American rock band Survivor’s song ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is what’s needed to keep spirits high!

“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought delves into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Nivibo Yiki, Kvulo Lorin and Dr. Salikyu Sangtam. For feedback or comments please email:dot@tetsocollege.org”.

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