Many students in Bengal competing for medical and dental college seats next year will be struggling with two sets of syllabi because of a late decision by the state government to go with the national entrance test.
The government's acceptance of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), announced on Monday, has come barely seven months ahead of an exam that the average student needs more than a year to prepare for even without a change of syllabus.
For those in Higher Secondary, the national entrance test will be an exam based on a syllabus not only different from what they have been studying but also far more comprehensive.
"I don't see myself making it to the merit list through NEET. Till this morning, I had been preparing for the state joint entrance exam," Souvik Nath, who studies in a Higher Secondary school on the southern fringes, told Metro.
"If the government had to accept the national-level test, it should have done so much earlier so that we knew what we needed to study for the entrance test," he said.
The common core syllabus for NEET, which the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will conduct for the first time on May 12 next year, includes chapters in physics, chemistry and biology that are either not taught to Higher Secondary students or just skimmed through.
Questions on human physiology, for instance, could trouble Higher Secondary students writing the national test because their course doesn't cover the topic in detail.
"The NEET course has chapters on human diseases and applied physiology that our students are unfamiliar with. There are also differences between the state and national physics and chemistry syllabi. It's unfair to expect students to do well after studying two different courses in such a short time," a biology teacher said.
The state government passed the buck, saying it tried to postpone the switch to a national entrance test but was forced to implement it immediately. "The regulations of the Medical Council of India left us with no choice. We had to accept the common national entrance test for medical admissions," health secretary Satish Tewari said.
The announcement that the common test would be held nationally from 2013 was made last year, based on a Supreme Court ruling meant to prevent students from appearing for multiple entrance exams.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee opposed the decision, citing the difficulties a large section of students in Bengal would face until the Higher Secondary course was upgraded. She also refused to accept the central test unless the Centre gave students from Bengal the choice of writing the test in Bengali.
"The Medical Council of India gave its nod to writing the test in regional languages only a few weeks ago. Hence the delay in deciding to go with it," said a senior official of the education department.
Until Monday's announcement, the Trinamul government had given the impression that the state joint entrance examination would continue at least until 2013.
"By dragging this till the fag end of the academic session and then agreeing to go with the national test, the state government has hurt the prospects of students in Bengal," a veteran teacher said.
Students in Calcutta would be better off than those in the districts because of access to libraries, Internet and specialised coaching centres.
"For someone like me who studies in a school far from the city, studying a new course at short notice is a mountain to climb," said Moupia Bera, a West Midnapore girl who aspires to be a doctor.
As in the other states, Bengal will have a separate merit list and 85 per cent of the seats in state-run medical and dental colleges will be reserved for home. The remaining 15 per cent will be filled through an all-India merit list.