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Anitha’s NEET Case Has Brought Some Insight Into the Current Systems

Seventeen year old, Anitha Shanmugam ended her life on 1st Sep 2017 when she came to know that her dream of becoming a doctor was shattered. She was one of the petitioners at the Supreme Court who demanded that their Higher Secondary examination marks should be considered for admission to medical colleges, instead of the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) score.

Anitha had scored 1176 marks (out of a maximum possible 1200) in the Higher Secondary examination whereas her she could only muster 86 out of 720 in the NEET. She comes from a poor family with a daily wagerer father who couldn’t afford the special coaching to prepare for the NEET. However, she was offered free seats in other streams like aeronautical engineering and veterinary sciences.

Indeed it is heart breaking to see young, talented children committing suicide and especially the ones who had dreamed big to save people’s lives by becoming a doctor. She had to end her life in disappointment.

Few points that I would like to highlight:

Voices against NEET exam:  Many people and celebrities are raising their voices against the NEET. The argument is that it is favoring CBSE and other boards whereas students from the State Board are at a disadvantage. I am amazed at this reasoning! How can we blame higher standards instead of improving the State Board syllabus and pedagogy? During my schooling days, I knew several friends who shifted to the State Board only to achieve the cut-off mark needed admission to an engineering or medicine course. They never really liked their two years of State Board education as the quality of the syllabus and the teaching standards were well below par compared to what they had been exposed to, since childhood, in other boards. If a student’s dream is to do MBA, they want to study in higher standard boards just to be able to clear the tough & competitive CAT exam. We are ok with this because we will get the best management students who can improve the economy and generate more income overall.

I coach teens and I once had this conversation with one whose parents felt that the kid was not interested in academics anymore. He was a bright student in his previous school but once he moved to a State Board school he completely lost interest. The only reason the kid mentioned was: “We are in the era of the USB, Blueray, online funds transfers, virtual reality and artificial intelligence but my computer science textbook still talks about floppy disk and CD drive. I don’t like this at all!”

Keeping this fact in mind, as responsible citizens we need to push for an improvement in the standards of the State Board instead of fighting against raising the bar.

Mental strength of today’s children: This disappointment and shattered dreams are not new. Many people face failure and emerge stronger in life. While this might sound very philosophical, it is a fact that today’s children lack the mental strength of the earlier generations – even mine! What is the current education system doing about it? How are challenges like Blue Whale countered? What is happening to the moral codes of the students? Isn’t the education system ignoring key aspects of human behaviour? Please think about this. Anitha is like our daughter. This situation and disappointment can befall any kid.

Is academics equal to income?: As parents we only have our children’s best interests at heart. We teach them to become intelligent and to be able to better the current living conditions. Why does someone go to school? To accumulate knowledge or to increase our income generation capabilities in the future. In this case, I recently came across the video of a celebrity who was furiously screaming that “Anitha would have improved her family conditions from daily wages to a much better state, and hence I am not going to stop fighting against NEET.” We have totally forgotten the true objective of education. Anitha was an intelligent child, and she could have improved her family’s condition by becoming an aeronautical engineer too!

Hurry to succeed: One failure cannot mean the end of life. She could have attempted the NEET again the next year. But there are arguments that as she came from a poor family, she could not afford to wait out a year. We tend to attach an element of hurry to everything in life. Life is all about enjoying the moments and striving for our dreams and passion. We need to educate our children on how to cling on to a dream and ensure it is achieved. We can achieve anything with true belief. “Be patient and dedicated – you will get it for sure”, should be the motto.

Setting wrong examples: As adults we carry the responsibility to bring out the best in our children and ensure they remain true to their core which is human. We cannot let children end their life for anything.

Why do we go in search of the best doctors in town for any ailment? Because we do not want to risk our life. Today the system is trying to raise the bar to create better doctors that we need and we are taking a stand against this! We must not set a wrong example to the next generation. If this child had attempted again next year, she might have achieved a better score in the NEET next year and could have become that best doctor we all look seek. There are many institutions offering help to such children in need of financial support to pursue higher education.

I know there might be a lot of aggrieved people who will disagree with me. But every situation has two sides. And we need to look at both and decide which is best for us. Having considered the above aspects, I truly do empathise with Anitha’s family. I will pray for their strength. And this is a lesson for the rest of us. We need to think of living a great life and moving forward, not going back or ending it. RIP Anitha. We have missed a great doctor.

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