With private coaching classes for NEET costing the sky and the moon, poor students have only one option, to stick to their municipal schools and still hope to ace the national medical entrance exam, reports A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
Earlier this month the Madras high court observed during a hearing that the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test was against the poor as the coaching classes for the same cost up to Rs 5 lakh, and only those who attended the classes made it through NEET.
'Why can't the Centre cancel NEET like other systems implemented by the Congress-DMK regime? NEET discriminates against the poor. It is shocking that only those who attended coaching classes, paid as much as Rs 5 lakh to obtain medical seats,' the high court asked.
Tamil Nadu has been the epicentre of anti-NEET sentiment, with students committing suicide over their inability to ace the test that is the gateway to a much-coveted medical seat.
A quick survey of NEET coaching classes in Chennai revealed that the coaching classes were certainly expensive.
One outlet with five branches charged Rs 1 lakh for two years of coaching. Another, which had branches all over the state, charged Rs 180,000 for two years while another one, which had branches all over the country, charged Rs 3 lakh for a two-year course.
The coaching class timings are before regular school in the mornings and after school in the evenings.
Weekend classes are also held, on Saturday evenings and the whole day on Sunday.
Summer holidays, in fact, see coaching classes being held throughout the vacation.
The batches have a student strength of between 15 and 35, and the coaching classes all insist that their staff have been educated at IITs.
Some even offer various scholarships through their entrance exams, where if you make it, your fees are reduced. Not the whole amount which includes tuitions, books, laboratory charges, test fees and other sundry expenditure. Only the tuition fees are discounted.
Clearly, all the NEET coaching classes are beyond the capacity of a child from a BPL family.
So where do these children go to prepare for NEET? The municipal schools is the answer.
Like the Chennai higher secondary school in Thiruvanmiyur which occupies a sprawling campus. It has over 2,300 students, all smartly attired in uniform and shoes. There is nothing to distinguish them from their counterparts from private schools.
Headmistress M Sivakami is a multi-tasking expert who answers three people at the same time with a ready smile.
So far, she says, none of her students have gotten into medical college, but she feels they have a good chance now as the NCERT syllabus has been selected keeping in mind the NEET exams.
42 of her students have opted for biology at the higher secondary level. "We have our own coaching classes and also online coaching which all our students have access to," says Chennai Corporation's Education Officer R Bharathidasan.
"We have provided all our 11th and 12th standard students with laptops and also 2GB data which is enough to appear for the NEET mock tests which are conducted online every week," Sivakami tells Rediff.com.
"If the students make a mistake, we correct them, so when they appear a week later they have improved," she adds.
Every biology student has to appear for these online tests every week.
As for the government coaching classes, "Seven students have opted to attend the coaching classes, six from standard 11 and one from the 12th standard. The 11th standard students are attending NEET classes in Tamil while the 12th student is attending it in English in a different school," the headmistress points out.
The coaching centres are also in corporation-run schools.
"We also have coaching classes in the summer vacations, but that is residential. Girls hesitate to attend as parents are not supportive. Last year two girls came back saying we don't like the place," says Sivakami.
M Vignesh scored 434/500 in his SSC exam and then decided he wanted to be a doctor. "The coaching centre is very far, but they teach very well, so I go there. The weekly tests were very difficult in the beginning, but as the months go by I am finding it easy," he says.
"I don't mind being away from my family for summer classes, I will attend them. I think the mock tests and the coaching we are getting is enough to crack NEET and get into medical college," he adds.
H Ahmed Hussain scored 397/500 in his SSC. "I decided to get into medical college when I was in standard 8. The tests were very difficult to begin with, but now we are faring better. You cannot learn anything by heart. You have to understand the questions and the subject and reply."
M Krishnan scored 371/500 in SSC. "I decided to become a doctor when I selected biology as my main subject. We are improving with time as we appear for a test every week."
Sivakami, another student, scored 300/500 in her SSC exam. She hasn't been regular in attending the coaching classes. "I don't think I can go for summer classes as my family will not send me," she says.
R Shweta, who scored 304/500 in the SSC exam, says she finds the weekly tests easy and agrees that the coaching is very good, but says about the summer classes, "My family will not let me stay in a hostel to study."
N Khatija is the lone 12th standard student who attends the coaching classes in English. "I don't mind staying in a hostel as long as they allow me to pray on time," she says with a smile.
How many of the civic school students make it through NEET remains to be seen. But these kids seem to go all out to prove the Madras high court wrong.