NEET, JEE row: Centre says majority of students want exams, but those from rural, flooded areas say govt being apathetic
Several aspirants took to social media on Thursday to convey to the ministry that travelling to examination centres and lodging amid restrictions are the biggest challenges, and not social distancing at test centres
The Centre on Thursday indicated it was unwilling to reconsider its decision to hold the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test-Undergraduate (NEET-UG) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) despite raging criticism from the Opposition and protests from a section of students.
Even though no official confirmation was relayed, a section of the media quoted Ministry of Education Secretary as saying that the government will not rethink its decision to go ahead with the exam.
Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank also appeared to defend the government's move in several interactions with the media, without hinting at the possibility of reaching out to students protesting the move.
Pokhriyal insisted that the 'silent majority' was with the government as he said that he has received several emails from students and their parents insisting that the government should not let their preparations go to waste.
"Every day, I get innumerable mails from the silent majority. The parents and students say that they are under stress and preparing for exams for the last two to three years and that they don’t want a zero academic year. They have been seriously preparing for the exams since January and the past two years," he told the Hindustan Times on Wednesday.
The minister, on Thursday, also referred to the number of downloads of the admit cards to deduce that the 'majority of students' actually want to appear for the exam.
"National Testing Agency (NTA) officials told me that over 7 lakh candidates have downloaded JEE-Main admit cards while over 10 lakh aspirants have downloaded NEET admit cards. This shows that students want the exams be held at any cost," Pokhriyal said.
He also said that the government has added more centres for the student's convenience and to prevent overcrowding at centres. JEE exam centres have been increased to 660 from 570 while there are now 3,842 NEET centres, up from 2,546, the minister said, adding that 99 percent students have been allotted the centre of their choice.
The National Testing Agency, responsible for conducting the exams, has also laid out a litany of guidelines to ensure that proper health norms are followed at exam centres,
However, these measures appear to address only part of the problem that the protesting students have raised.
The centres — even after the addition of fresh ones in wake of coronavirus — lie in roughly 150 cities across India, whereas the country has over 760 districts and hundreds other towns and villages.
As students vociferously oppose the government's move, many of them point out that it is not the fear of coronavirus , but the practical difficulties of arranging transport and stay that is forcing them to seek postponement of exams.
Education website Career 360 compiled responses from its readers, and those demanding the postponement of the two exams say that the COVID-19 pandemic and the flood situation in various parts of the country has created unforeseen problems for them.
Hence, getting a centre of their choice doesn't really solve the problem of transport and stay.
A coronavirus survivor wrote:
"I’m one of the NEET aspirants writing to you who had COVID-19 and recovered. I am in full support of either postponing or cancelling these exams because after having survived this virus, I want the parents and students to be safe. I want to let them know that this is real, it’s scary and it’s deadly. I would never want to sit in an exam that would decide my future having known how this disease almost took my life. I do understand the consequences of not conducting these exams, but nothing, nothing matters more than life especially when you could be putting more than one life at risk."
Another reader from Bihar narrates the ordeal faced by students who either live in states with rivers still under spate, or were recently hit by floods:
"I live in Bihar and the flood condition is worsening day by day. Electricity problem is the main issue for us. NEET is not an easy exam to prepare for. I used to study for 14 to 15 hours which has now reduced to two to three hours and it's not sufficient. Same is for other states which are affected by floods."
Student's reactions poured out on Twitter as well, where several journalists also reported on problems faced by the candidates.
A News18 journalist cited the example of a student who has to appear for two exams and he has been allotted centres in different districts for both. The JEE aspirant's first exam for B.Tech ends at 6.30 pm on Day 1 and the next exam starts at 7.40 am the next day.
"After sitting in 1st exam for 5 hours with mask, I would have to travel 3 hours overnight to give 2nd exam," the student is quoted as saying.
Another student tweeted tagging Pokhriyal saying that the public transport has not yet resumed in his area and he does not have access to private vehicle to reach the exam centre. Even if he has been granted the centre of his choice, he says he has no means to reach there because of the prevailing situation.
A student from Jammu and Kashmir tweeted a video showing the flooding in her area and asked the government if she is expected to swim to the centre which is 82 kilometres from her home.
I'm from J&K and last night whole area near my house got flooded. How am i gonna go to the exam centre now? I can't swim and my exam centre is 82kms away.#PostponeJEENEET_Today#postponeNEETandJEE#PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID#AntiStudentNarendraModi#StudentLivesMatter#NEET#JEEpic.twitter.com/KN5bMXciVr
— Nancy Sharma (@NeetuBa39240540) August 27, 2020
A student also refuted Pokhriyal's claim that the number of downloads of admit card is an indicator of the number of students supporting the exam.
The student wrote on Twitter:
"The actual reason to download admit cards is to see our centres & it's distance. As Edu. Min., he should at least know that we can't see our centres until and unless we download them. It doesn't mean we want it. After seeing the distance, we want to postpone it in this situation (sic)."
Another journalist with The Hindu highlighted the problems faced by women candidates residing in rural areas. The journalist posted messages from a student from rural West Bengal who said that places like Murshidabad and Malda are still inundated while public transport has not resumed yet.
The student also pointed out the fact that in order to take the exam at a centre 250 kilometres away from her home, she will have to reach a day before the exam, and also arrange for accommodation, which are unaffordable for her family.
Another candidate from rural Uttar Pradesh told the journalist that her parents are reluctant to let women travel alone in these times when transport is sparse.
Many girls from rural areas might end up dropping out of the exam because it was impossible for them to reach to the nearest centre, the candidate said.
Students also pointed out that the limited number of buses and trains mean overcrowding in public transport which puts candidates at risk of the infection even if the government manages to maintain social distancing and sanitation norms at the test centres.
Around 8.58 lakh candidates have registered for JEE (Main) and 15.97 lakh students have registered for NEET.
These exams have already been deferred twice in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The JEE (Main) was originally scheduled to be held from 7-11 April, but was postponed to 18-23 July; NEET-UG was originally scheduled for 3 May, but was pushed to 26 July. They were postponed again and are now scheduled in September.
While the NEET is scheduled to be held on 13 September, engineering entrance exam JEE (Main) has been planned from 1 to 6 September.
With inputs from PTI
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