'Prepared for NEET, JEE, but terrified of catching COVID-19': Why students aren’t convinced by govt’s assurances
While the NEET is scheduled to be held on 13 September, the JEE-Main has been planned from 1-6 September.
Inzamam Ali, a student gearing up for the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), is at a loss to understand how he can conceivably reach his exam centre.
Ali’s house is in Bihar’s Gopalganj district, which has been badly battered by floods this year. Speaking to Firstpost, he listed out several grave challenges that he would have to face to even attempt to reach the exam centre in Patna, which is over 150 kilometres away. “Firstly, there are floods, due to which our area is completely inundated. If we try to walk some distance, there is the risk of snake bites and electric shocks in the flooded areas. Arranging private transportation would be very expensive. My father is a farmer and the lockdown has severely affected our income. And then, of course, there is the risk of the COVID-19 infection.”
Like Ali, thousands of students across the country are presently up in arms against the Centre’s decision to conduct the NEET and JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) in September. The two examinations are held for medical and engineering college admissions respectively.
While the NEET is scheduled to be held on 13 September, the JEE-Main has been planned from 1-6 September. Around 8.58 lakh candidates have registered for the JEE-Main exam and 15.97 lakh students have registered for NEET, according to PTI.
Sustained protests by students seeking the postponement of the tests have forced Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank to issue a statement on the issue. Pokhriyal said that over 17 lakh students have downloaded admits cards for NEET and JEE. “This shows that the students want exams to be held at any cost,” Nishank said.
Inzamam does not find the claim convincing. He said, “Just because candidates download their admit cards, it doesn’t mean that they want the exam to happen in September. We download the admit cards out of a hope that we might have got an exam centre that is close by.”
The education minister also claimed on Thursday that most of the students have been allotted centres of their choice.
However, these assertions do little to assuage the concerns of students in many parts of the country, especially those who live far from large urban centres. One of them is Danish Khan, who lives in Bihar’s Bhagalpur and is also preparing for the NEET examination. Khan remarked, “Getting the centre of one’s ‘choice’ means little when they are all so far away. For such a large state as Bihar, there are only two exam centres — in Patna and Gaya. My exam centre is Patna, which is about 200 kilometres away from here. Arranging for transport is also difficult. Although some students will be travel by private buses, the bus operators are now charging exorbitant amounts. Also, the capacity of these buses is limited and they cannot accommodate all the students who want to travel to reach their exam centres.”
The government has said that in order to ensure the convenience of students and to prevent overcrowding, the number of JEE exam centres has been increased to 660 from 570 and the number of NEET exam centres has been increased to 3,842 from 2,546. However, in the context of COVID-19 -induced restrictions, this increase does not appear to have been enough.
Apart from restrictions in place due to COVID-19 , the disease itself is also a cause for worry for students. Speaking on this issue, Khan said, “I am especially worried about inadvertently infecting my grandparents, who live with me. As it is, my grandfather remains unwell often, and my grandmother is a diabetic. What will happen if I catch the COVID-19 infection at the exam centre or along the way?”
Another student, Anisha Das from Odisha’s Balasore, also expressed a similar concern. She said, “When cases of the novel coronavirus are still rising so rapidly, why is the government insistent on conducting the examinations in September? We are all afraid that we may end up catching the disease and spreading it to our family members.”
Das added, “It is not that we are seeking postponement of the exam because we have not prepared for it. We have studied hard for the examination. I have been preparing for it for over two years. We are only demanding that the exam be postponed by a few months, not cancelled altogether. Even if the academic session starts late, institutes can catch up with the curriculum in subsequent semesters.”
Both Khan and Das have participated in online campaigns to raise awareness about why the exams should not be held amid the pandemic. Such campaigns have gained significant traction in the past few days, with students using hashtags such as #Rise_AgainstExamsInCOVID and #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID to air their views.
Across the country, the COVID-19 infection is indeed spreading at an alarming pace. On Thursday, the country reported a record 75,760 new infections and 1,023 deaths due to COVID-19 . However, according to official figures, the recovery rate is now 76.24 percent and the case fatality rate has declined to 1.83 percent.
In this backdrop, the demand to postpone the exams has also been echoed by several Opposition parties, who have been stepping up the pressure on this issue. In recent days, parties that have raised this issue include the Congress, Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party. This has prompted allegations that there are political motivations behind the protests.
This charge has been made in a letter written by a group of academicians to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing their support for the decision to hold the NEET and JEE in September. The letter states, “The dreams and future of our youth and students cannot be compromised at any cost. However, some are trying to play with the future of our children simply to propel their political agenda and oppose the government.”
Speaking to Firstpost, Delhi University professor SP Singh, one of the signatories of the letter, said, “There could be some regions in which candidates may face difficulties in getting to their exam centres. But one cannot justify making students all across the country suffer because of this. If state governments cooperate to make sure that norms to prevent COVID-19 are followed, the exams can certainly be held successfully.”
In a similar vein, Swadesh Singh, assistant professor at the Delhi University, “Further delay in conducting the NEET and JEE will lead to a whole year being wasted and will be a loss to the students. It is possible that after a few months, the novel coronavirus might not completely go away. We will have to live with the virus. The exams should be held while following the necessary precautions.
However, a Pune-based educationist, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed a contrasting view and said, “The whole narrative of a year being ‘wasted’ if entrance examinations are not held in September is completely uncalled for. Even if the exams are held after a few months, the academic curriculum, as also the credits linked to it, can be restructured to compensate for the time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an urgency to hold examinations could have been understandable for final-year students, as a delay would hinder their chances of getting admissions for further studies — within the country as well as abroad, and for prospective jobs. But as far as entrance examinations such as NEET and JEE are concerned, there is no reason why they cannot be delayed by a few more months. The safety of students and society at large must be the top priority.”
With the JEE-Main examination expected to begin in just three days and the NEET slated to begin in two weeks, what is certain is that the last word on this controversy has not yet been spoken.
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