October 26th, 2020 

By Hamid Riaz 


Intermediate and A-levels students aspiring to get admissions in various public and private medical universities of Pakistan held a demonstration on Monday, October 26, against the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) outside the Lahore press club. The students were protesting abrupt changes to the syllabus for medical entry tests which they claim puts the future of some 150,000 students at risk.

The issue started with the dissolution of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Commission (PMDC) and its subsequent replacement with the newly formed Pakistan Medical Commission on September 16, 2020. The PMDC had already announced the date for this year’s medical entry test for Punjab, to be conducted by the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on October 18, 2020, prior to its dissolution. After the formation of the PMC, the previous announcement by the PMDC was declared void, and a National Medical Entry test (NMDCAT) was announced. Previously, all four provinces and the federal territory conducted their medical tests per their syllabi, however, this new test mandates a standard exam for the entire country, an act which according to students disregards the glaring differences in the four provincial and national syllabi.  

To add fuel to fire, the PMC announced that the new NMDCAT will be conducted by the National University of Medical Sciences (NUMS), a federal institute, giving rise to massive discontent amongst students from Punjab who pointed out that students of the federal territories and of the provinces follow different textbooks. Therefore, they contested, the new test will give undue advantage to students from federal territories.

Following social media campaigns by students, the PMC gave out a series of clarifications that the new test will consist of a “common syllabus” and students need not worry about preparing the syllabi of other provinces and the federal territories. But students claim that the sample paper uploaded to the PMC’s website is a clear contradiction to this claim, pushing the teens toward protests.

“There are at least 150 topics in the national syllabus which are not included in our provincial textbooks,” says Aminah Abdullah, an intermediate student raising her voice against the PMC. “Even if the government wanted to bring changes to the syllabus, they should have done so at least four to six months in advance so that students had ample time to prepare. The announcement of a new syllabus merely twenty-five days before the entry test is a gross injustice. Some of the books included in the new syllabus are not even readily available in Punjab. How are we supposed to prepare content which is not even available to us?”

Some aspirants have also approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) in this regard. The LHC has ordered the PMC to submit a reply to students’ queries within the next two days.

The PMC on its part stands by its statement that the new test will not contain anything which is out of syllabus for any student from any province. Additionally, the body claims that students will be given an “objection paper” during their entry test on which they can point out questions which according to them were not according to the syllabus. The body will then evaluate the tests with these objections in mind.

Students are far from satisfied with these clarifications.

“Is there any guarantee on part of the PMC that these objections will be catered to? What will be the mechanism of dealing with these discrepancies?” asks Muhammad Abdullah, another aspirant protesting outside the press club. “I agree with the principle that there should be a standardized test for all pre-medical students in the country. But the government should be smart enough to realize that before instituting a standardized test, it is important to institute a standardized syllabus for students across the country,”.

Abdullah also questions the “urgent need” behind dismissing the University of Health Sciences (UHS), the body previously responsible for conducting medical entry tests in the country. “Was there a massive scandal? What is the urgency? Even if they had to do it why could they not wait for a year, so that students had time to prepare accordingly?” he demanded.

Another female student, on the condition of anonymity, explained the demands of the protestors.

“We are not political at all. We are children demanding that the government stop playing with our future. Our demands are simple… either delay the test so that we have enough time to prepare the new syllabus or conduct the test via UHS according to the old syllabus. I don’t know why the ‘adults’ fail to understand these simple facts,” smirked the female students.