Aware of the fallacies of the existent education system, the government of the Punjab introduced the Medical Colleges Admission Test (now, Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Test) to regulate the growing disparity among students of different parts of the province and provide a uniform criterion based on which only the best students would be filtered into medical colleges. The government, satisfied that this piece of patchwork would deal with the situation, has since then made no radical changes (nor any minor changes for that matter) to improve the general standard of education across the province. As a result, the situation has worsened: MDCAT has brought along with-it problems of an even more intricate nature with far reaching consequences.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of our traditional system is the encouragement of rote learning which in the long run has resulted in a total lack of research and innovation in our universities. The UHS proudly claims that its MDCAT examination, consisting solely of MCQs, would root out this corrupt practice and only conceptual students would be able to make their way to medical colleges. This misleadingly gained credence from the fact that many position holders from intermediate were unable to perform well in their Entry Test. Private academies that had already charged hefty sums to ensure the cramming of matriculation and intermediate textbooks offer their services to teach the same curriculum again albeit at a higher cost and in a somewhat conceptual manner. (Also read: dusk.pk/2016/12/31/failing-educational-system/ ) However, a single look at the MDCAT past papers is enough to discredit the validity of this claim. In fact, MDCAT is probably the worst form of rote learning in our country. Sentences from the textbook that generally contradict logic appear as MCQs and students are required to choose what the textbook declares, not what concept and logic affirms.

The 2016 examination had a high percentage of memory based questions (yes, unusually high even by MDCAT standards!) Consequently, the merit soared giving private academies another golden opportunity to attract even more students; they attributed the record increase in merit to the extraordinary performance of their students! One wonders why students from the same academies are still unable to recover from the shock of the 2017 examination. This does not in any case suggest that a more conceptual approach was adopted in setting the recent question paper. Anyone with a calculator and a thorough cramming of the Oxford Dictionary could have scored perfectly.

Another major problem often witnessed at the matriculation and intermediate levels is the amount of unfairness involved. It is common knowledge, and has been reported by media channels time and again, that examination questions are always leaked out at least a few hours before the exam commences. The UHS claims to maintain ‘valid, reliable and secure systems’. The hollowness of this claim has been laid bare by the widespread paper leakage allegations levied against the University soon after this year’s exam. These allegations are based on strong evidences and a few candidates have also knocked the doors of the judiciary. Many more are awaiting the Chief Minister’s decision who had weeks ago constituted a committee directing it to report back within 72 hours. There has been no news about the committee’s proceedings ever since.

One might assume that the MDCAT format based entirely on MCQs would at least be beneficial in eradicating the phenomenon of different, and often unjust, marking standards of the many examiners. Once again, the University displays its uncanny ability to prove people wrong. It has been heard of in the past, and has gained widespread acknowledgement following this year’s paper, that the answer keys used by the UHS are often incorrect. At least, the traditional system allows students to recheck their papers, even though, it is often of no use because the word of examiner, however unjust it may be, cannot be challenged. Contrarily, the University does not release its question papers, and the matter remains ambiguous. In view, of these allegations, the University must publicly release this year’s exam paper and refute what it terms as baseless allegations intended to malign its integrity. After all which could be more worse: not being able to use the same MCQs in a later exam (even though papers often make their way to the market after a couple of weeks of the exam date, the University tends to use the same MCQs repeatedly) or a damaged repute.

The English-medium format of intermediate and secondary education impedes the educational career of thousands of students. Having studied all their subjects in an Urdu-medium system even at the matriculation level, the leap to an English-medium format proves fatal for their educational career. The same problem (more appropriately, the same instrument for discrimination) is reinforced in MDCAT where the thirty MCQs of the English Section are the most crucial in determining the overall merit.

The problems are indefinite, but a few solutions would allow the same system to continue a bit longer until the government decides to rigorously revitalise its education policies.

The absolute monopoly of private academies must be checked. Intense competition among these academies is what directs them to employ unfair means to provide advantages to their students. This can be easily resolved by improving the quality of education in government institutes and employing conceptual techniques in their teaching methods. Improving education quality in government institutes is not something that necessarily requires government policy making. It is an administrative failure and can be dealt with by the various Boards of Education.

Importantly, the highly competitive atmosphere of pre-medical must be relieved. This can be done by placing barriers before the Entry Test itself. Students scoring lower than a certain percentage in matriculation must not be allowed to sit for the pre-medical examinations at the intermediate level. This way the number of pre-medical inter students in government as well as private institutions will be checked. Additionally, the MDCAT should take place after the inter results are announced and again students scoring lower than a certain percentage must not be allowed to sit for the MDCAT exam. This filtering of students at each step would prove much beneficial than the current method of sorting them out in one sweep.

Lastly, the administrative bodies need to realise that MDCAT is just a patchwork. It is NOT an alternative to the existent secondary education system. The current 50% weightage for MDCAT does not make sense and is a clear negation of the credibility of our secondary education. A 70% Inter and 30% MDCAT formula would be better suited for this purpose. Matriculation results may altogether be removed from the criterion because they have already served their purpose of filtering students into different colleges at the intermediate level.

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