“Which river did Akbar drink water from?”. This is the kind of questions research scholars are expected to answer in order to be eligible to teach in universities and colleges in India.
In June this year, the National Eligibility Test (NET), the qualifying test for lectureship became totally objective in 78 subjects, as opposed to the earlier format which also had one subjective, essay writing section.
The move to make it completely objective remains contestable. It removes the ambiguities associated with marking a subjective section. Yet, can an exam which discards the need to test candidates on their ability to reflect and analyse be adequate especially for the social sciences?
For years now, the exam has been the worst kind of objective test you can have. Across disciplines, students and teachers say with exasperation, “It has nothing to do with testing teaching ability, or research aptitude.”
Former NCERT director Krishna Kumar finds the exam ‘problematic’ and says, “There is no imagination or logic to the questions. There is no way to answer them except for cramming.”
5,71,627 candidates took the test in June, out of which 40,332 passed and 3,625 got the Junior Research Fellowship according to the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) figures.
Because of the arbitrary nature of the exam, most candidates have to take the exam multiple times before qualifying, even if they are very good students.
Charu Gupta, professor of History at Delhi University (DU) finds it ‘distressing’ that some of her best students with first divisions and in-depth knowledge are unable to qualify.
Maya John, a third year Ph.D student of history at DU says the exam is biased against the very quality it is meant to test — research minded aptitude. “It is a UPSC style, general knowledge paper.”
Conducted by the UGC twice every year, the NET is a centralized exam just like the Board examination. Sunalini Kumar, assistant professor Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College, believes the exam should be ‘done away with’. “It perpetuates the myth that there is an amount of finite knowledge that you can be tested on,” she said and added the exam is a short cut to having qualified and trained teachers.
Others don’t suggest such a radical change. Krishna Kumar thinks it is possible to have an imaginative objective exam, an example being the GRE. The NET, however, is far away from it. “I had even written about it when I was in NCERT. Sadly, the UGC has not improved its quality,” he says.
Next: What exactly is wrong with the format and questions of the NET exam?