A question of students’ future

KOLKATA, INDIA - MARCH 16: Students wearing protective mask as they arrive to appear for Class 12th examination on March 16, 2020 in Kolkata, India. (Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Those who want exams postponed have valid reasons to protest the schedules put out by testing authorities — but so do those who want to get going

The nationwide protest against holding NEET UG, JEE exams is growing day by day. Protesters are citing the vulnerability to Covid infection during exams, as many students who took other exams during the pandemic raised concern over social distancing and proper sanitation facilities. On the other hand, supporters of the exams are citing “waste of the academic year.”

The National Testing Agency (NTA) has also confirmed that exams will be conducted on the scheduled dates. JEE Mains exam 2020 is to be held between September 1 to 6, while the NEET (UG) exam 2020 will be conducted on September 13. NTA has postponed these dates twice amid lockdown prior to this. And it has clarified that it will conduct exams on the scheduled date. NTA has issued admit cards for NEET UG on August 26.

Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ has also said that they have decided the exam dates after a lot of deliberation and will go ahead with it. “A lot of parents had written to us asking when will NEET and JEE exams take place and how long can a child keep preparing for exams, which is why we have decided to go ahead with exams after postponing them twice,” Pokhriyal said in an interview to DD News.

Some students also filed a plea in the Supreme Court but it was  dismissed on August 17 saying that “ultimately life has to go on and the career of the students cannot be put on peril for long and a full academic year cannot be wasted”.

Students continue to protest across social media sites and on Monday,  thousands of them called for a day-long hunger strike online. Students have garnered huge support from young environmentalist Greta Thunberg and several opposition leaders including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik. Even DMK President MK Stalin came on board on the demand for postponing the exam. #PostponeJEEAndNEET and #StudentsLivesMatter is trending on Twitter.

Several students whom we contacted echoed the concern over traveling in the pandemic, parents’ reluctance to send them away from home, floods in several parts of Bihar and many other factors making exams amid Covid pandemic difficult for them.

Jaspreet, a NEET UG aspirant from Dhanbad said, “We are demanding merely postponing of the exam, as travel amid pandemic is tough for us. We will go to exam centres along with parents that will put all of us at risk.”

Anmol, from Bhopal says, “Even after the exams my parents would not send me to different cities to study until this pandemic is over or the vaccine comes. So there is no point of even appearing for exams.”

In May, we spoke with Manoj who is also reluctant in sending his daughter away. She is preparing for medical entrance exams. If exams are held, many of the students, especially female students, would not be able to sit for the exams due to their parents’ apprehensions.

NTA has also notified about exams like Delhi University entrance. More than seven lakh students will also appear for DU entrance to take admissions in different UG, PG and M.Phil/ Phd courses. Exams are to be held from September 6. Other entrances for courses like law are to be conducted in coming months. And several students are protesting against conducting them amid a pandemic.

However, not all students are demanding the postponement of the exams. We spoke with Naman (name changed), a JEE aspirant from Bhopal. “I have taken a drop of two years for the preparation for JEE entrance and half of the academic year has already got wasted due to this pandemic. I don’t want to waste another year. In December I will turn 21.”

This Covid situation has created a catch-22 situation for the government as both concerns are equally valid and the government has no alternative plan so far to resolve this standoff — students are protesting and the online mode of exams from home has failed to live up to its promise. Meanwhile, more than 150 academics wrote to the PM that any further delay in conducting the medical and engineering entrance would compromise the future of students.

While more than 24 lakh students will be taking medical and engineering entrance, lakhs of them would take the entrance exams for other universities. Ensuring safety while taking proper precautions would be a huge challenge and few exams so far conducted don’t paint a pretty picture.

Even if exams are conducted in September, the admission process will take it to January, time for the end of a semester. Government has to think of an alternative plan as delay in admission is already creating panic among many students.

The change in academic year or speeding up academic sessions by reducing holidays are some of the options that experts are suggesting.

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