Monday, April 08, 2013

National body for entrance exams gets nod from state education ministers

India’s state education ministers have approved a plan of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to establish a national testing body and turn some of the high-profile entrance exams into global brands, setting aside their criticism of the central government on the poor implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) legislation.

The states also didn’t object to some of the key entrance exams being outsourced to private companies to professionalize the way they are conducted, if needed, thus relieving academic bodies and institutions of the need to handle the process. The national body, once in place, will be an umbrella agency.

“The states have given their in-principle approval for setting up of a national body,” said Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for HRD. The effort is aimed at making the system more efficient. “There is nothing wrong in some of our exams becoming global brands like TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination),” Tharoor said.

GRE is a global standardized test for admission into engineering schools in the US and several other, mainly English-speaking, countries. It is administered by the US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS). TOEFL is a test of an individual’s ability to use and understand English in an academic setting, designed and administered by ETS.

Tharoor said the ministry will draw up a plan shortly after seeking the advice of experts and academics to make the system robust. Mint had reported on 1 April that the government is planning to outsource some of the entrance exams such as the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the National Eligibility Test (NET) to third parties.

GATE is an entrance test for postgraduate courses and doctoral programmes at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, and is also used by some public sector undertakings (PSUs) to screen engineers for entry-level jobs. NET screens eligibility of candidates for junior research fellowships and lectureships at various Indian universities and colleges.

Once in place, the testing body can standardize aptitude tests, besides measuring the general cognitive, analytical and communication abilities of candidates. It can conduct key entrance exams more than twice a year to give students the opportunity to better their scores.

Some experts said students won’t benefit much if an entrance test such as GATE is conducted more than once a year. “India’s admission cycle does not have multiple entry points in a year. When you have one admission season, multiple exams may not yield a a huge difference,” said Aditya Reddy, Director of GATE Forum, a chain of coaching institutes that prepare students for the exam.

According to government documents, the national body will coordinate with states and various school boards to normalize their marks and create national rankings that will ease the admission procedure — a key concern for IITs when the joint entrance exam pattern changed in 2012. “Standardizing entrance tests is a good move. The first step, however, should be to bring all school boards’ curriculum of the states to the national level,” said K. Parthasarathi, secondary education minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Source: Mint, April 8, 2013

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