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College conundrums

The delay in entrance examinations due to Coronavirus has put admission seekers in a fix

After taking his 12th Board exam Raunak, a resident of Gurugram, went to Kota to take coaching classes for the medical entrance exam scheduled for 3 May. He thought he could utilise whatever time he had to prepare. 

“When the lockdown was announced, I did not know that exams too would get postponed, I thought whatever is happening is temporary. But when we did not receive the admit card till April 30, I realised that things were not all right. Initially, I took it in a positive way, thinking I would get more time to prepare, but that soon gave way to panic,” he says.

Nineteen-year-old Prashant from Bhopal is also tense as it is his second drop year. He has been preparing for the JEE exam. In the first JEE (Mains) conducted in January, his performance was not great. “I got 76 percentile because I got nervous but I had some hope with second JEE (Mains). Then the date was postponed. I don’t know how and when the exam will be held,” he says. 

After securing 92% marks in his 12th Board, Prashant didn’t take admission in any science course even after dropping one year as he thought his friends would make fun of him. 

“I am scared of the future. I don’t know what will happen. This whole year I was home, while last year I took coaching in Kota. It seems I have wasted two years of my life.”

HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ announced fresh dates for the exams on 5 May . As per the announcement, the JEE (Mains) 2020 will be conducted on 18-23 July while NEET 2020 will be held on 26 July. “JEE-Mains will be held from July 18-23, while JEE-Advanced will be held in August. NEET will be conducted on July 26,” Nishank said.

The delay in conducting these exams has created a lot of uncertainty. If the JEE exam will conclude by  August, an additional one month will be lost in counselling sessions before admission to colleges can be finalised. 

Central varsities like Delhi University will also conduct their admission process within this period. “Many entrance exams would take place when the lockdown ends for admission to private colleges and universities. It may create confusion among students and parents,” says Yadvendra, who teaches maths for JEE.

Delhi-based Mandeep, like his friends, was preparing for CLAT — an exam held for enrolment in a national law university. He had paid Rs 30,000  to a private coaching institute. He is now worried about what’s next. “My exam for CLAT was to be held in June, but obviously it would be delayed due to Coronavirus. Now I am afraid the exam date may clash with other entrance exams in various universities” he says.

All this while, the CBSE board is yet to announce the dates of postponed exams and evaluation process. Various state boards are also yet to make any announcements postponed exams — states like MP and Rajasthan too have not finished with their 10th and 12th Board exams, which is a cause of worry as post conclusion of the exams, it takes a couple of months for the announcement of results. 

Universities, on the other hand, are facing their own problems. The protests by Delhi University Teachers Union on the issue of ad hoc positions is a double whammy. Apart from the suffering of ad hoc teachers who are working on contracts without any job security, students are also suffering. 

Delhi University has not declared results of semester exams for courses like Chemistry (Hons) and Economics (Hons). Mahatva, a student of Motilal Nehru College says, “I am studying Physics (Hons) and we have completed only one laboratory session so far in the second semester. And we are supposed to do at least 14 lab practicals.” 

Trying to cope with the pandemic, authorities at DU are now working on ensuring a smooth and secure admission process for the beginning of the new academic year. Authorities are considering making the entire admission process online to minimise student visits.

On 27 April, there were news reports that a panel formed by University Grants Commission (UGC) has recommended a single Common Admission Test for undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The exam score can be used by all the universities and colleges for admission purposes.

Prominent universities including JNU, Delhi University (DU), and Mumbai University are waiting for the UGC recommendations before they formulate a plan for the future.

Even if students are able to cope with the delayed exams and admissions procedures, they have to deal with the apprehension of their families. Parents want their kids around them at least for the time being. Manoj, father of two girls preparing for the medical entrance exams says, “Until the Corona problem ends, I don’t think I would send my daughters away from home.”

The primary victims of parents’ apprehensions will likely be female students, who even otherwise find it difficult to pursue higher studies in the country. “I will ask my daughters to pursue different career options if this goes on. Because life is more important than anything else. And in big cities, who would take care of them,” adds Manoj. 

This is not the case with just Manoj. Many parents are now apprehensive about sending their kids to institutes outside their home towns. Puneet, a student preparing for the CLAT exam, thinks that he might have to drop a year. Being an only child, he thinks it will be difficult to convince his parents to allow him to pursue higher studies outside his hometown. “I thought I would convince my parents because studying law is my dream but right now, it is tough. Hopefully, next year I will get the chance to pursue studies away from home,” he says.

It is clear that the lockdown to arrest the spread of Covid-19 necessitates immediate counselling for those students who are getting anxious about their future. Some of the students interviewed said that since everyone is getting a lot of time to study, competition in the exam would be sharper. 

Yet, he says, “I am unable to concentrate. Everyone would be studying as we are getting more time to prepare for the JEE (Mains)” says Prashant. 

Keeping in mind that the third leading cause of death in the age group 15-24 years in India is suicide due to pressure on students, the problem should not be taken lightly. Concerned authorities should come up with good strategies to ensure that students’s future prospects are not derailed.