Why We Need To Rethink National Eligibility Test Or UGC NET

The main argument on which the discontent with UGC NET is based, is that the present objective nature of the exam undermines the subjective nature of a teacher-student relationship.

Why We Need To Rethink National Eligibility Test Or UGC NET

Why We Need To Rethink National Eligibility Test

New Delhi:  Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recently made its question papers for UGC NET conducted in November 2017 available on UGC NET website. I, as someone who once harbored the dream to clear UGC NET, out of curiosity went on the website and downloaded the question paper. A cursory look at it reminded me of the reason why I decided to discontinue appearing in the exam in the first place. The exam does not measure your capabilities as a teacher and your knowledge of the subject matter but rather tests your ability to memorize facts. 

While, the memorization of facts may be necessary for some disciplines, and again that is a subjective opinion, it falls flat in case of many disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences stream. Intellectuals, teachers, and students alike have time and again registered their discontent over the structure of the UGC NET exam. 

The main argument on which the discontent with UGC NET is based, is that the present objective nature of the exam undermines the subjective nature of a teacher-student relationship. Prior to June 2012, th exam consisted of a subjective paper. From June 2012 onwards, the structure of the exam was changed.

The Present Structure of UGC NET Exam
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All papers in UGC NET are objective in nature

At present, UGC NET exam constitutes three papers. Paper 1 is general aptitude which is supposed to asses a candidate's teaching and research aptitude. Paper 2 and Paper 3 are subject-specific. 

Paper 1 consists of topics such as teaching aptitude, research aptitude, logical reasoning, reading comprehension, communication, data interpretation, people and environment, higher education system etc.

The reasoning part in paper 1 also covers mathematical reasoning. The question here is why and how is an aspiring professor who has spent his last at least 5 years of education studying a humanities or social sciences subject expected to answer a mathematical equation or a data interpretation question. 

One of the questions asked in paper 1 in this year's UGC NET examination is a series of numbers where the candidate needs to find the next number of series. The question is tricky. It is not a simple arithmetic, geometric or harmonic progression. The differences between two subsequent numbers in the series are also following an arithmetic progression, making the question complex. 

Paper 2 and Paper 3 are subject-specific but objective in nature. The notion that 'one size fits all' is unfair and unjustified since an objective exam will not be able to fully comprehend the capabilities of a teacher who is about to teach a class of college undergraduates. One of the questions asked in paper 2 of UGC NET exam for English, which incidentally also received some flak from those who appeared, was,
"In Women in Love what is Winifred's pekinese dog called?"

Another question asked candidates to identify the character from Canterbury Tales who has a red face full of sores. 

Though, these are questions derived from works of literature one is at a loss of how these bear significance to a person's capability to teach an undergraduate or for that matter a class of post-graduate students. 

English Literature: A Specific Case

The questions asked in paper 2 and paper 3 for English Literature students mostly revolve around identifying the author of a particular work or identifying the work to which a particular phrase/ character/ sentence belongs. While these make sense as it will test how many works of literature a candidate has read and how many of these works they have memorized, but these also undermine the potential of a literature class. 

The prima facie of a literature class is discourse, dialogue and discussion. I remember, in one of my classical literature classes once, my batchmates and I were encouraged to debate the validity of Draupadi's argument where she questioned Yudhishthira's authority to wage her as a bet after he had already lost himself. Our classroom teaching was a succession of debates and discussions about social, political contexts of a work of literature and how it bore upon the current society. 

The objective questions in Paper 2 and Paper 3, even though they cover a variety of writers, poets and thinkers spanning centuries, do not in any way test a candidate's capability to ignite the curiosity required to question and to debate and to dissect a work of literature to pieces and then build from there. 

How Professors are Hired in International Universities

At this juncture, where we are debating about the validity of UGC NET exam, it is important to look into the hiring process of international universities which make their presence felt in global rankings every year. 

The hiring process varies from faculty to faculty. However, most universities advertise for a maximum of 1-2 position in one academic year and hire tenure-track professors. The person selected for interview is usually someone with a PhD of course, and outstanding publications. Apart from the interviews with the faculty members, the applicants also have to give a seminar to an assembly of students and teachers. This is to prove their mettle as a teacher. 

The important point here is, that those who are selected for an interview, are selected thus not on the basis of their score in a UGC-NET type exam but are selected on the basis of their research area,  publications in international journals and their recommendation letters.

Lack of "Qualified" Professors

In India, a candidate has to have a valid UGC NET score to be eligible for a vacant position. And the weeding process is such that often those with genuine interest in the subject and a good aptitude for research and teaching (specially in humanities and social sciences) are left toiling to clear UGC NET for years. 

In 2014, the then HRD Minister had informed the parliament that out of the sanctioned 16692 teaching posts in Central universities, 6251 teaching posts were lying vacant. This is the number only for Central Universities. State Universities are not at a better position either. The lack of teaching faculty can be attributed to multiple factors which also includes the lack of "qualified" teachers. 

The government certainly needs to evaluate if UGC NET is fulfilling its purpose of selecting qualified professors and researchers. 

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