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Edited by: Rianna Lobo

Trigger Warning: Mentions of Suicide

 

2020 has been alarming for people around the globe because of the coronavirus pandemic, which brought overwhelming uncertainties. One such source of tension is in the education sector where the routine has been severely disrupted. The situation has become stressful for many students in the country. 

India conducts some of the most challenging and sought after examinations in the world every year for students wanting to go for their undergraduate studies after high school. The two most highly attended exams are the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) for engineering, applied sciences and health sciences. These examinations are taken by around two million applicants every year.

The authorities had to postpone these exams due to the pandemic. The JEE (Main) was to be conducted from the 7th of April to the 11th. Due to the pandemic, the exam was postponed from the 18th of July to the 23rd and finally, from the 1st of September to the 6th. The JEE (Advanced) is to be held on the 27th of September. NEET was to be held on the 3rd of May; however, it was postponed to the 26th of July and then to the 13th of September.

The conducting of exams in September has brought criticism from several people as it is appurtenant to the health and safety of the people involved in the examination process. The people who oppose have the view that the exams must be deferred to November. The commute to the examination centre amid the pandemic is a tiring process with the added risk of infection. The logistics required for the exams, from question papers to stationery used by the staff and the students would alone be a nightmare. 

Students from low-income backgrounds are the worst impacted because of the lack of resources compared to the ones from middle and higher-income families. The area near examination centres is likely to be more contagious because of the higher density of people during examination days. The examination is of at least 3 hours, and the students are usually supposed to reach well within the start to ensure smooth conduction; this is going to create a hassle for students and their families with the additional burden of mental stress during the exams. 

The Supreme Court was approached by six opposing state governments to challenge the judgement of the 17th of August, which supported the conduction of exams in September, but the Supreme Court dismissed the petition. The Honourable Supreme Court, also ordered, among other things, “We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question relating to NEET UG-2020 as well as JEE (Main) April 2020.” 

The central government, the authorities, and the people who support the conduction of exams in September hold the view that postponing the exams further will lead to the loss of academic traction for the students who have been preparing for these exams for a long time. The careers of millions of students are at stake. The semesters would be extended, which will create a burden on students and professors. According to the press release by NTA on the 21st of August, it has written to all DMs, DGPs, State Chief Secretaries, and the SPs regarding the standard operating procedure, travel and commute of students and the density of students in the respective districts. The personnel involved in the conduct of these exams are trained on the implementation of NTA’s advisory. The National Testing Agency has drawn up a comprehensive implementation plan based on relevant instructions and orders for the staff and students on the conduction of NEET and has released a set of instructions for students regarding Covid-19. There is no insurance, only an assurance from the government. As mentioned by one of the spokespersons of the Central government, all the precautions would be followed at the examination centre, and special buses and trains will be provided to students who cannot commute due to any reason. 

The National Testing Agency released a circular on the 25th of August regarding the conduction of the JEE (Main) from the 1st of September to the 6th and the NEET on the 13th of September. The circular indicates that the NTA has ensured that 99% of the students get their first choice of Centre Cities. The number of Examination Centres has also been increased from 570 to 660 (for JEE Main) and 2546 to 3843 (for NEET (UG) 2020). The number of shifts in venue for JEE (Main) has also been increased. The other primary concern regarding the conduction of exams without further delay is the mental health of students that brings out the uncertainties pertaining to their professional career and personal life. Some states like Rajasthan have conducted other exams, so the government is of the view that with the smooth implementation of SOP and the cooperation of people, it is possible to conduct the examinations.

Amidst all the politics and hum haw spread by different groups, mainstream media, and individuals, some people are attempting to solve the crisis. One of them being, K.T.S. Tulsi, a senior Rajya Sabha Member, who is arguing the case for students to postpone NEET. K.T.S. Tulsi is hope for students as he had successfully represented the government several times when he served as the Additional Solicitor General in the government of 1990-91. 

The other person in favour of postponement of exams is a senior BJP leader, Dr. Subramanian Swamy. He earlier on the 21st of August wrote to the Prime Minister seeking the postponement of JEE/NEET beyond Diwali, and also came up with 13 points as to why the exams need to be postponed and can be conducted after Diwali in November when the COVID-19 threat is going to be lower. One of the points being that rural areas have the most number of COVID-19 cases, thus, creating problems for low-income students. Secondly, states like Bihar and Assam are already facing issues due to floods, which has added to the difficulties of the pandemic. The problem with food during the exam is a huge concern, given that people are avoiding eating out in the pandemic due to safety concerns. He also writes, amongst others, that students are not physically and mentally prepared to take exams right now. He had also predicted that the conduct of examinations in September might lead to depression amongst students and suicides in the country.

A 19-year old NEET aspirant from Tamil Nadu, Jothi Sri Durga took her own life on the 12th of September, a day before NEET, out of the fear of the outcome of the exam. As reported by The NEWS Minute, she ended the suicide note, with, “I am sorry. I am tired.” She had taken NEET the previous year but had been unsuccessful. This incident has brought much criticism on digital media, with some accusing the government. Many people are insisting that the government take this matter seriously and treat it as a wake-up call to postpone NEET.

Another such incident occurred in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal, where a 21-year old NEET aspirant died by suicide. His name was M Mothilal. He had earlier made two attempts to crack NEET. This was supposed to be his third attempt. The exact reason for his suicide is unknown as he did not leave a suicide note. The district collector K Megraj said that the exact details would be known only after the police investigation. He was one of three students from Tamil Nadu to have died by suicide this week before NEET which is to be held on the 13th of September. 

Three suicides in a week before the exam is an indication that students are frightened about the outcome, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

Both sides have legitimate concerns about the examinations’ conduct. First of all, the safety of the students, their families and the staff. Secondly, there is a significant loss to academia and students everywhere. The smooth conduct is, at last, dependent upon the authorities and their management. The whole debacle of entrance examinations is going to be a test for students, their families, the staff, the authorities and the state governments. The different governments need to make sure that their cooperation is above the politics and the propaganda to try to make this process better for the well-being of students.

 

A data fanatic with varied interests in economics, statistics, international relations; a swimmer who loves to travel and is a typical fan of Federer and Dhoni.
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