Amidst the growing number of Covid-19 cases as well as the worsening situation of flood in some states of India, there’s a genuine concern rising amongst a section of medical and engineering aspirants who fear they will not be able to take up the JEE and NEET examination this year. Opposition parties also have protested against holding the exams this year.
But the NEET/JEE and other competitive examinations can be conducted successfully and safely, and in a way that balances the demands of students who cannot take up the exam in September as well as those who are willing to write it this year. The exams can’t be postponed until the menace of the coronavirus subsides. Even the Supreme Court said, “ultimately, life has to go on,” while dismissing a plea by students to delay the JEE/NEET.
If there are no exams this year, we won’t have any doctors or engineers graduating between 2024-26, depending on the duration of the course. Students will also have to compete in double the pool of aspirants next year. And the academic system will be burdened by delayed sessions for years to come. India can’t risk that.
Initiatives at place
The Ministry of Education has said 99.7 per cent of candidates have already got their preferred choice of exam centre, which implies that most of these students will not have to travel to some far-off cities to write exams.
Along with this, the number of JEE exam centres have been increased to 660 from 570 while there are now 3,842 NEET centres, up from 2,546, for the convenience of students.
Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said, “A total of 7.41 lakh candidates out of 8.58 lakh appearing for JEE have downloaded admit cards. Only 332 candidates have requested for change of their centre cities, which are being considered positively. In reference to NEET, a total of 6.84 lakh candidates (out of a total of 15.97 lakh) have downloaded the admit cards in the first five hours.”
Despite the initiatives of the National Testing Agency (NTA), as well as issuance of a very strict social distancing SOP based on recommendations of a high-level committee of medical experts, the protests on social media are not subsiding. #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID has become an international trend with activists like Greta Thunberg and actors such as Sonu Sood also speaking on this issue.
Their justifications to delay the examination is superficial at best.
The consequences of NEET/JEE exams not being conducted this year will be many.
A grave burden
First, if no NEET exams are conducted in 2020, then we will have not a single doctor graduating in 2025/26, which will cause a massive health crisis in India — and we already have an acute shortage of doctors. According to the latest World Bank estimates (2018), India has a paltry 0.9 doctors per thousand people. All our neighbours — China (2.0), Pakistan (1.0), and Sri Lanka (1.0) — out-perform us.
The same shall apply to engineers too. The non-graduation of quality engineers in 2024-25 session in India shall severely impact India’s ambitious modernisation plans.
Further, if NEET and JEE are cancelled in 2020, similar demands will be made in other streams too. Many tweets demanding cancellation of other exams like the UPSC, CSE, NDA, CLAT, ICAI and other competitive exams have already started hogging online attention.
Can a country like India afford non-production of vital human resource pool for one whole year: no new engineers, doctors, managers, CAs, civil servants, and so on? A zero year in academics will push India’s growth story to zero.
Second, Leftist intelligentsia, a few opposition parties and BJP’s Subramanian Swamy claim that by demanding postponement of exams, they’re fighting for the interests of aspiring engineers and doctors. This may be true in the short run, but definitely not in the long run.
Over 15,97,433 students have registered for NEET this year and 8,58,273 have registered for JEE (Main). If the exams are not held this year, the aspirants will have tremendous competition next year with more students joining the competition pool. While the number of seats in top colleges will remain constant, the number of aspirants will more than double up. This will result in nearly 50 per cent of our aspirants failing to secure admission anywhere.
The only beneficiaries of this will be coaching mafias and private colleges who sell seats at exorbitant prices under the garb of ‘management quota’. The delaying of the examination from April/May to September this year has given a level-playing field to poor students, who could not afford to join coaching classes, but got additional time to study. Third, another major problem of a zero year is that it delays the academic sessions for a long time. For instance, during the Emergency of 1975-77, no academic sessions were held in Bihar and to date, the academic sessions are delayed in the state by one to three years in several universities, with the exception of Patna University and TM Bhagalpur University. Delayed sessions mean that if someone in a state university in Bihar completed the last semester in 2020, they would get their degrees only in 2022, or 2023, or 2024. Thus, a three-years’ BA programme gets completed in four to six years. This is happening in Bihar’s universities such as Magadh University, JP Narayan University, LN Mishra University and BN Mandal University.
No student would want this model emulated across the country.
A solution for all
At a time, when the Narendra Modi government has launched the New Education Policy, which aims to bring in branch campuses of the top 100 global universities to India as well as permit India’s premier institutes to start campuses abroad, can we afford to run delayed academic sessions?
It is evident that the cancellation of competitive exams is neither feasible nor desirable. However, we also understand that there are many candidates who can’t write the exam this year due to reasons beyond their control.
So, without cancelling or further postponing exams, there are other solutions that balance the interests of students.
- At the time of downloading admit cards, the NTA website should give the option to candidates to ‘opt out’ of taking exams in this session. Such candidates may re-appear for the examination in the next session without paying an additional examination fee then. Furthermore, those candidates who opt out of exams in the coming week must be given an additional one year of age relaxation across all categories and the current session should not be counted as part of their exam attempts.
- Conduct the exam as per schedule by maintaining strict social distancing guidelines, which have already been issued by the NTA.
- Start the new academic session latest by November.
This solution, if implemented by the NTA, will address the concerns of all students: the silent majority willing to write exams as well as the protesting students who have genuine grievances. As a former student activist during my JNU years, I respect the outrage on social media. I urge such students to divert their focus from demanding indefinite postponing of examinations to demanding the government make the examination optional.
The writer is currently working in service of the Ministry of Education as Deputy Advisor, Unit for International Cooperation at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration and is responsible for the Americas and the G20 Division. He may be reached @gjha88. Views are personal.