Protesters Demand Overhaul of National Testing Agency Amid NEET Paper Leak Controversies

Amid widespread allegations of exam irregularities and paper leaks, a large number of protesters gathered to demand major changes in the National Testing Agency (NTA). They are calling for the dissolution of the NTA and the resignation of the education minister, expressing serious concerns over the integrity and management of national exams like NEET. This has sparked significant legal and public scrutiny, highlighting the urgent need for reform in the examination system.

Protesters Storm NTA Office:

Scores of demonstrators swarmed the National Testing Agency (NTA) office on Thursday, voicing demands for a complete overhaul of the agency amidst escalating controversies surrounding the NEET paper leak. Earlier in the day, protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar to stage a demonstration against alleged exam irregularities.

Indefinite Strike and Arrests:

Protesters, including members of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and various leftist student organizations such as AISA, KYS, BsCEM, and DISHA, initiated an indefinite strike. They demanded the dissolution of the NTA and called for the resignation of Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. The police intervened to halt the protests, detaining several students in the process.

Legal Action Against NTA:

The Delhi High Court has sought a response from the NTA regarding a petition filed by a NEET candidate. The petitioner alleged that an ‘out of syllabus’ question on radioactivity appeared in the exam and also claimed errors in the answers provided by the NTA. The court has given the NTA two weeks to file a response.

Congress Criticism and Staffing Concerns:

Congress leader Ajoy Kumar raised concerns about the NTA’s operational capacity, pointing out that it employs fewer than 25 permanent staff yet is responsible for conducting over two dozen major exams, including the highly competitive NEET UG. Kumar accused the government of jeopardizing students’ futures by overburdening the under-resourced agency.

Dependence on Outsourcing:

Kumar highlighted that the NTA relies heavily on deputed employees and contractual staff, leading to the outsourcing of critical functions like paper setting and data security to private technical service providers. Former education administrators have echoed these concerns, noting the agency’s dependency on external experts due to a lack of in-house expertise.

NTA’s Structural Challenges:

The NTA, established in 2018 to function similarly to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the U.S., has faced criticism for its inadequate staffing. While ETS employs over 200 staff members, the NTA operates with a significantly smaller team. R. Subrahmanyam, former secretary of the education ministry’s higher education department, indicated that the NTA was intended to be a “lean, efficient entity” focused on online exams with credible technical partners.

 Potential Exam Security Vulnerabilities:

Despite outsourcing tasks like setting up test centers and securely transmitting question papers to technical partners with robust IT infrastructure, experts have raised concerns about potential vulnerabilities in the NTA’s operations. The shift from computer-based online tests to pen-and-paper exams has introduced additional risks, with question papers being printed at private presses, making them susceptible to leaks.

NEET UG Exam Controversy:

The NEET UG exam on May 5 saw participation from approximately 24 lakh candidates. However, allegations of question paper leaks in states like Bihar have marred the announcement of results on June 4. These controversies have intensified scrutiny of the NTA’s ability to effectively manage large-scale examinations.

Ministry’s Response to Irregularities:

The union education ministry recently attributed the alleged irregularities in both the NEET UG and the National Eligibility Test (NET) for PhD admissions and assistant professor recruitment to “institutional failure.” This acknowledgment has further fueled demands for a comprehensive review and reform of the NTA’s operations.

Future of the NTA:

As protests and legal challenges continue, the future of the NTA remains uncertain. The calls for structural changes and accountability reflect broader concerns about the integrity and effectiveness of India’s examination system. The ongoing controversy underscores the urgent need for reforms to restore confidence in the agency and ensure the fairness of national exams.

The pressure on the NTA to address these issues and implement reforms is mounting, as stakeholders across the board call for enhanced transparency and efficiency in the management of crucial national examinations.

(With inputs from agencies)

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