From COVID-19 to food to floods, students face a host of issues to get online or reach a centre to write these exams. Is it worth it to risk their lives?
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court refused to entertain a petition seeking the postponement of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) this year. This was after authorities gave their assurance that all necessary precautions would be taken to during the exams to keep lakhs of candidates safe.
As per the National Testing Agency, JEE (Main) April 2020 is scheduled from September 1 to 6, while NEET-UG 2020 exam is scheduled for September 13.
The petition, filed by 11 students from 11 different states, stated that conducting the JEE online and the NEET offline in centres across the country was “utterly arbitrary, whimsical and violative of the fundamental right to life of lakhs of affected students.”
“Due to [the] strong possibility of getting affected by COVID-19, many students may be deprived from appearing in aforesaid JEE-NEET Exams, which will be in flagrant violation of their fundamental right within Article 14 of Constitution,” the petition said.
Having said that, the court rejected their petition.
“Education should be opened up. COVID may continue for a year more. Are you going to wait for another year? Do you know what is the loss to the country and the career peril to the students?” Justice Arun Mishra, who headed the three-judge Bench, asked the petitioners.
Yesterday, The Better India also organised a poll asking our readers whether the exam should be postponed or not. Out of the nearly 5,000 votes cast, 94.3 per cent of our readers felt that these exams should be deferred to a later date. While this is not an authoritative poll, it does capture the growing sentiment amongst many prospective candidates and their parents that these exams must be postponed.
While efforts are on by politicians across party lines to convince the government into postponing these exams, here are 10 reasons why the authorities should reconsider their decision.
1) Rising Cases of COVID-19: The number of positive cases continues to rise across the country. Data from the Ministry of Health on Monday showed a single-day spike of 61,408 infections, taking the country’s total caseload to 31,06,348. The number of deaths, meanwhile, stood at 57,542 total on Monday. Experts contend this could be a conservative estimate, considering many states have been accused of fiddling with the data to show a lesser number of COVID-19 related deaths.
2) Infection Risk: The risk of infection is too real in enclosed spaces like examination halls for students, and their family members. Thermal screening here cannot detect asymptomatic cases.
3) Affordability: The decision to conduct exams next month affects poor and middle-class students more adversely as compared to their more affluent counterparts, who can afford to take JEE online, travel for NEET to an exam centre and if they get infected, pay for quality treatment. Students from lower-income brackets simply can’t afford any of these privileges.
4) Travel: Another significant concern, particularly in the case of NEET, is making travel arrangements, particularly for students writing NEET from villages or small towns who have been allotted far off examination centres.
There are students who have to travel really long distances. What about students living in areas under lockdown? How will they reach their centres a day before the exam? What arrangements have been made?
In fact, the risk of catching an infection is probably greatest during travel. Can the authorities guarantee safe transportation? Also, given that public transport and trains are already shut down by state and Central governments, can parents of the less affluent afford to arrange private vehicles to ensure their child reaches the exam centre?
5) Floods: Various states in the Northeast and others like Bihar are currently suffering from a spate of floods and other natural disasters, which has disrupted their daily lives. These students can neither write their exams online nor travel long distances.
6) Food: For students travelling, another major concern is food. How will these students get safe and hygienic food during their stay in the city/ town allotted? How can they be sure that they have access to safe and healthy food during their travel? Similar questions are being asked about lodging facilities as well.
7) Already Positive: Many students or their families have been infected with COVID-19. As a result, they have lost precious time to prepare. What about students who can’t travel and thus attend exams due to strict quarantine rules in place? Will exceptions be made for them?
Is it smart for authorities to offer such exceptions to those from ‘Red’ zones given the nature of the virus? Also, students travelling from outside have to adhere to quarantine rules, thus inconveniencing them.
8) Guarantee of Safety: The authorities cite that the precautions it has taken to conduct these will address the concerns of students. Given how these planned procedures have failed to work in earlier exams, it’s hard to see how authorities will deal with exams like JEE and NEET which have lakhs of aspirants. Also, these precautions don’t address the concerns stated above.
9) Mental Health: Another serious concern is the mental health of students. Both the NEET and JEE are high-pressure exams, and candidates have been known to take extreme steps if they don’t obtain their desired marks. Should authorities further burden students who not only have to contend with the pressure of performing in these exams but also think about the risk of catching an infection?
10) Masks: Can students deal with the inconvenience of writing exams with masks? People have already cited difficulties breathing with masks. Many students, particularly those who are asthmatic, believe sitting and writing these exams wearing them could seriously hamper their performance.
The rhetorical question that the court and authorities are asking of ‘when will the conditions improve to normal?’ is difficult to answer. But what should be clear is that under no circumstances, can we risk the lives of students and their families for an exam.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)