Asking exam candidates to remove innerwear to check cheating shows abysmal level of trust in the young

There is no justification for the alleged actions of the officials of the National Testing Agency (NTA) at the examination center in Kollam, Kerala. On Thursday, according to an FIR report filed by a parent, Many young women were forced to take off their underwear by officials They sought to appear on the National Eligibility Test with Admission (NEET) for admission to MBBS and BDS programmes. The current episode is not the first such example: In 2017, teachers who were “overzealous” at a Kerala school were suspended for asking a girl to take off her underwear before entering the NEET exam centre.

Humiliating students for a piece of clothing — or, as the Rules states, “any adornment/metallic items” — is unreasonable and expresses a deep suspicion of the aspirants on the part of the NTA. How can an earring or hook on a piece of clothing lead to cheating? And how many candidates exactly have their cheat sheets been slammed into these wires? However, the NTA’s list of prohibited items – which includes shoes, jewelry and all metal objects – only enables a person on Earth to observe the aspirants’ bodies. Bureaucratic “rules” must also aspire to common sense. As a governance reform in the healthcare and education sector, NEET has a lot to recommend it. Like the Engineering Joint Entrance Examination, NEET has the potential to ensure uniformity in admission criteria across states and objectivity and transparency in candidate selection. What is common here is the assumption of guilt – “cheating” – and impunity arising from the vaguely worded rules used to humiliate students.

The local police have filed an FIR in the matter and the NTA has sent a team to Kerala for its own investigation. Offending officials must be brought into custody. But a broader dialogue around reform of the NTA’s guidelines and powers is also needed. The guiding principle of this reform should put the dignity of students and aspirants front and center; It should lighten their burden while ensuring that the tests are conducted fairly. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that those who take the exams – whether NEET, JEE or any other such examination – are aware of their role as enablers of young people, who are already under tremendous pressure. Stripping a candidate to protect the test means that there is a critical error in the test – not the candidate.

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