December 15, 2011

40% medicos fail first-year exams

CHENNAI: From topping exams to failing, it has taken them less than a year. Months after acing their 12th standard exams, nearly 40% of all first-year medical students in 27 colleges across the state have failed. They will take the exams again in February 2012 to be promoted to the second year.

This year, the failure percentage has increased by 3-11% in anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, the subjects that first-year students are taught.

The increase is largely attributed to changes in exam and evaluation policies. Unlike in previous years when students would get 40 marks as grace, this year not more than five grace marks were awarded as per Medical Council of India guidelines. Some 221 students benefited from the grace marks this year.

Also, in 2011, a student had to pass all the theory, oral and practical exams. Earlier, a student only needed a combined score of 50% from the two anatomy papers, but this year he/ she had to get 50% in each.

Earlier this year, the academic board of the Dr MGR Medical University fixed the passing minimum in each component of the examination, and this came into effect from August 2011. Deans and principals of all affiliated colleges were informed eight months before the examinations. "We had to do this to build better doctors. Medicos can't afford to leave out portions in choices. They can't say I failed in anatomy first paper but scored high in the second paper. It does not work," said university vice-chancellor Dr Mayilvahanan Natarajan.

Changes in exam and evaluation rules have led to this year's increase in the failure percentage of first-year medical students, academicians say. While these procedural changes may have contributed to this year's spike, a high percentage of first-year students fail every year, they add.

The dean of Madras Medical College (MMC) Dr V Kanakasabai agrees with the medical university's examination reforms, such as awarding fewer grace marks, but insists on better school education.

"We get the cream of students into our college. The quick dip in academic performance has something to do with the quality of students coming into medical colleges. They probably are so used to rote-based learning that they simply can't adapt themselves so quickly to concept-based learning," he said. At MMC, where seats get filled hours after counselling for admissions begins, nearly 17% of students failed in anatomy this year.

Every year, the fight to enter medical colleges gets tougher with more and more students scoring better in their class 12 examination. Unlike other states, students in Tamil Nadu are admitted to colleges based on their score in class 12. The state government feels eliminating common entrance will give rural students a chance to get into medical colleges. Senior doctors like Dr Rajasekaran feel that it's important to test students' aptitude before they are admitted to medical colleges and that can be done only through a common medical test. Among the 2008 batch of students who appeared for the break batch exam in February 2010, only 45% of the students passed in physiology. "We really don't know if they even like to study medicine or if they are pushed into it by parents," he said.

The reasons could be systemic, too. First year courses are considered non-clinical and the faculty of these courses is in short supply. For instance, there are less than 10 forensic experts for 17 medical colleges across the state. "Students are used to being spoon fed. In many medical colleges, they would only brief students on topics in almost all non-clinical subjects," said Dr G Ravindranath, who heads the Doctors Association for Social Equality.

Added to these are the new challenges of a professional education. From being school students, they are suddenly considered adults and thrown into a high-pressure environment of long hours, late nights and unsupervised lives. Living in hostels could add to the suddenness of the change that's taken over them. "Many students are forced to move to cities. Some come from villages and small towns. They have to adapt a lot. They tend to miss out on academics while they are adapting," said Dr Ravindranathan.


Faculty and eminent doctors are not surprised that students with near-perfect scores in class 12 do poorly in the first year medical exams. Inching up, the failure rate stands at 40% this year. The current increase is attributed to a change in exam rules which gives fewer grace marks and requires students to pass all subjects. But the problem is deeper and systemic. The failure of students exposes the limitations of the school education system. Toppers coming from TN are reared in rote-based learning whereas professional education requires conceptual learning. School education is clearly in need of an overhaul

Link: Original Article

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