Tuesday, 20 December 2011

COMPETITIVE EXAMINATIONS : Negative Consequences for Indian Higher Education

Every year, thousands of aspiring candidates try their luck in different competitive examinations across India. Since success in these tests can ensure secured government jobs or places in prestigious educational institutions, they have tremendous importance in public life in this poor Third World country.

It is easier to understand the public views rather than to realize the social consequences. There are several problems associated with the competitive-examination-culture and some of them are closely linked to our higher education system.

Wastage of Talent

In most of the competitive exams (that are held for Government jobs), the eligibility criterion is graduation from any recognized university. Since job opportunities are limited and in most cases a Post-Graduation degree fails to guarantee any success in the highly competitive job market, a growing number of college or university students prefer to concentrate more on competitive examinations than on higher study. From the point of view of the students, this act is absolutely logical. But the problem lies in the fact that the shift of focus affects their higher study, particularly that of the ordinary students, who struggle for making proper adjustments between two types of examination system.

On the other hand, sometimes, a brilliant university student takes up the job of a school teacher, leaving his or her Post Graduation study in the middle. For these people, returning to higher study, while remaining in service, is a quite tough task. They have neither sufficient time nor the opportunities to attend any institution. Unfortunately, still, there are apprehensions about the quality and the market value of the degrees offered by correspondence courses. In case of science students, the correspondence can offer no solution to this problem.

The departure of the better students from the institution and the neglect of Post Graduate study by many for the preparation of such competitive examinations are definitely frustrating for the sincere university teachers. Study of subjects at the top-most level demands excellence and therefore, brilliant persons are required in the positions of teachers, students and researchers. Wastage of talents and lack of seriousness in higher study is often reflected in the poor show by the examiners in the NET and SET examinations – the tests that are held to screen the eligible ones for teaching at the colleges and universities.

But there are many other problems and their origin lies in the methods and syllabus of the competitive examinations. What is the rational to test the knowledge of the candidates in two optional subjects, at the time of recruiting our civil servants? Several candidates try to pick up the so called ‘scoring’ subjects and by doing so, they often end up with selecting subjects they have never studied before. There are many subjects that one candidate is compelled to study only for the competitive examinations and knowledge in such subjects hardly matters when one seeks job in private sector, which is the last hope for the unsuccessful candidates.

In case of the examination arranged by the West Bengal School Service Commission (SSC), one finds a different problem. In most of the subjects, two separate tests are held – one for the pass graduate level and the other for the Honours Graduate and Post Graduate level. A candidate is permitted to appear in one of them only. When there is no dearth of unemployed candidates having Post Graduate qualification, one can hardly find any reason to make provisions to recruit large number of teachers to teach subjects in which they have only Pass Graduate level expertise. Perhaps, the pass graduate level teachers receive lesser salaries and so, by recruiting teachers in this category, the Government can save some money for other development purpose. But this strategy minimizes the value of higher education and denying school children the best available teachers is not the right step to develop human resource for future.

The issue can be viewed from another angle. A candidate of SSC examination might find that there are very few posts, or not a single one, in a particular subject in which he or she holds a Post Graduation degree. To increase his probability of success, he might be tempted to appear for the Pass Graduation level test, in a subject that he had studied while doing graduation course some time back. Therefore, the candidate would be in a situation to prepare for a subject with which he is not in best of touch and studying a subject at the pass graduation level test would not increase his knowledge by any considerable amount.


Moreover, whenever unfamiliar subjects are to be prepared in quick time, it becomes while remaining engaged in other activities, it becomes a challenging task. The poor public libraries extend little help in collecting necessary reading materials. However, in the market economy, for any large scale demand, there appears the supplying agencies. So, here we find books, magazines, correspondence courses and tutorial homes to meet the requirements of the aspiring candidates. Anyone having purchasing power is able to afford these materials and services.

At present, it is really tough to achieve success in competitive examinations without consulting specially designed materials. Therefore, it is gradually becoming difficult for brilliant but financially poor students. Poor people somehow manage to finish formal mainstream education. But spending more for uncertain outcome is beyond their reach. This is natural in class divided society. But the concern is that if merit takes the back seat, the frustrated underprivileged sections slowly lose confidence in the system. This is not a good sign for the social order. Significantly, our competitive-examination-culture supports a coaching industry, which makes huge profit without contributing anything to the education system. More unfamiliar areas are included in the syllabus, grater is the dependence on the coaching industry and higher is the course fee. It is shocking to find that some publishing houses, even some ‘reputed’ tutorial homes sell poor quality reading materials in high price.

Competitive examinations in India are really tough and probably, the highly skilled ones win. But the society needs to think about the unsuccessful candidates as well. The failed persons are far higher in number than handful of successful candidates.

The important point is that for different competitive examinations, thousands of examinees do lots of hard work for a limited number of seats, but, it is a pity that some of the subjects they prepare or the sub-standard material they study, do not help the unsuccessful candidates in future. If failed in exam, entire effort is wasted. Therefore, for a failed candidate, ultimately it turns out to be nothing but loss of time, money and energy. Our youths should not remain engaged in studying something that does not help anyone in the society, except the coaching centres and some publishing houses.

Reforms Required

It is true that competitive examinations are essential. But it is equally important that questions should be asked only from the areas that have relevance with the job one candidate is aspiring for. While recruiting teachers, emphasis should be on the subject and on language skill. The candidates who have already qualified NET and SET examinations, may directly be recruited for school teaching after the personality test. Why should candidates, who have already proved their ability to teach at the University level, will have to seat in written test to prove that they have sufficient knowledge to teach school children studying at class five? Higher education should be given its due respect in society.

On the other hand, for selecting civil servants, there is no point to ask questions from optional subjects. There should be efforts to modify the syllabus. Lastly, if possible, a common syllabus should be formed by the different service commissions and it would be better if such bodies can organize common test for various services. Every year, dates of two or more competitive examinations clash with one another. To avoid such situation, it is necessary to reduce the number of such tests.

There is little point to conduct tough examinations without considering their huge negative impact on society, particularly on the higher education system.

About the Author: Ananda Mohan Kar,

Asst. Professor, Department of Sociology, The University of Burdwan, India.