Overstressed and anxiety-ridden students, an adamant government that refuses to budge, and, for once, a fiercely united opposition — the controversy over NEET-JEE examinations has exposed many fault lines in the Indian education system and its attempt to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main, for admission to engineering colleges, is scheduled from 1 to 6 September, and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), which is for admission to medical colleges, is slated to be conducted on 13 September.
Students across India have been up in arms demanding that the examinations be delayed. Countrywide student protests have continued non-stop — from the flood-hit states such as Bihar, Gujarat and Assam, to those in Jammu and Kashmir where internet restrictions continue making preparation for exams a challenge.
With only few days left for the exams, the NEET-JEE continues to be a matter of contention and a cause of worry in households all over India. It is for this reason that NEET-JEE is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Students vs Modi govt
The students’ concerns are manifold.
Many students are worried about having to sit through three-hour-long examinations wearing masks without a break, especially those who suffer from ailments like Asthma.
Moreover, the education ministry has said that students with Covid-like symptoms will be made to sit in a separate room and take the exam.
Students with sinusitis worry that if they begin to sneeze uncontrollably — as is common for anyone who suffers from it — then they will be made to sit with other Covid suspects. This can be a scary prospect for any student.
Many students also cite the Karnataka case, where 32 students who sat for the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) exam, tested positive for the Coronavirus. “What if we were one of them?” students ask.
The state’s education minister, S. Suresh Kumar, however, said that not a single student contracted the virus at the exam centre. They were “carrying it from other places.”
Even if the minister is right, it is still a cause of worry because other students who took the exam might have got infected.
Rare opposition unity
The students’ outcry has united many opposition parties in raising their demands, urging the Modi government to delay the exams.
But all other opposition parties have called for postponing the exams. The worry also is that students from various states will travel and mix, thereby putting every state government’s efforts to curb their coronavirus numbers at risk.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that holding the exams during the coronavirus times is only causing the students “serious mental agony”.
The BJP, however, has accused the opposition of doing politics over the exams.
“The Modi government won’t let Congress spoil students’ future to find relevance,” BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav has said.
No easy way out
Six non-BJP states have moved the Supreme Court with a review-petition, demanding that the exams be delayed. The Supreme Court had earlier rejected a similar petition, saying “life has to go on”.
“Are you (petitioners) ready to waste a whole year?” Justice Arun Mishra had asked.
This argument by the Supreme Court, of not wanting to waste one year, is at the heart of the Modi government’s refusal to further push the exam dates — after doing it twice already. The NEET-JEE exams are usually conducted around April every year, but students are now demanding the tests be held in November. From what we know so far, the Covid cases will probably continue to rise until there is a vaccine, and so there is no guarantee that conducting exams in November will be a safe prospect either.
And if the exams are put off until then, the new academic session won’t start until January. IIT Delhi director has told ThePrint that this will force colleges to squeeze the syllabus in six months, causing a great deal of loss to the quality of education.
There are no easy answers to these questions. But it is true that as a society, we need to continue operations in all spheres of life even amid the persisting coronavirus. Unfortunately, even if the Modi government does agree to further push the exams, there can be no guarantee as to when we will be fit to hold the exams without the threat of coronavirus looming large upon us.
Views are personal.