AA Edit | Doubts on exam integrity dampen dismal job scene

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

Amid claims of demographic advantage, India grapples with high unemployment and exam irregularities affecting lakhs of youth

Congress workers take part in a protest over the alleged irregularities in NEET-UG 2024 results, in Agartala. (Image: PTI)

Mr Narendra Modi, who is now into his third term as the nation’s Prime Minister, often reminds his fellow citizens as well as world leaders about the demographic dividend India is about to harvest in the near future. He has statistics on his side — more than half of India’s population is aged below 30, that is, about 70 crore people are ready to be in the service of the nation, awaiting their turn. This is an advantage no other country can claim as its own.

But that’s only one side of the story.

The other, darker, side is that India is passing through a time when unemployment is at its peak in terms of absolute numbers.

While politicians bandy about figures proclaiming fast growth of the economy, economists are worried about growth in joblessness and surging numbers of the educated unemployed. Surveys had predicted that unemployment would be one of the key issues in the last general election, and the results did stop the BJP from bagging a comfortable majority.

It is in this context that the news reports — of irregularities in competitive examinations conducted — explode in the face of the nation. It was in February this year the Uttar Pradesh government was forced to cancel the recruitment examination for police constables for which 43 lakh appeared. This was after allegations that the question papers were available for a price, ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

The leak of question papers of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance test (Neet-UG) conducted for admissions into undergraduate medical courses is an event of a scale that is unheard of. So much so that even a shocked Supreme Court had to comment that the integrity of the examination has been compromised. The gravity of the situation can be gauged only when we consider the fact that it was introduced in 2013 to do away with ad hoc mechanisms and arbitrariness in medial admissions and introduce transparency instead.

The cancelling of the National Eligibility Test (NET) for junior research fellowship and teacher qualification has now followed the Neet-UG fiasco. The government continues to be in denial mode saying there is no systemic issue with the National Testing Agency and no proof of wrongdoing yet. However, reports have started appearing from various parts of the country that there is an active market selling question papers.

The consistent failure on the part of the government, which gloats about its demographic dividend, to uphold transparency in the conduct of key examinations for which lakhs of hardworking youth apply is unsettling and difficult to stomach. The government must realise that grandstanding does not offer an alternative to transparency nor does glib talk replace jobs. Instead of using the mass of young people as an opportunity to fuel the nation’s growth, it is making its very survival a challenge for it. This is unconscionable.

It will be wrong for those in power to assume that the youth will be content with its pontificating. What if they are heading towards “a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual” as Martin Luther King Jr has presaged?

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