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24 Lakh Students Prepare to Give JEE and NEET 2020 Exams During COVID-19

Aug 30, 2020 3:00 AM 4 min read

Across India, students are protesting the decision to conduct entrance and final-year examinations despite the surging COVID-19 case count.


Entrance: In the coming two weeks, more than 24 lakh students are expected to appear for JEE (September 1st - 6th) and NEET (September 13th). These exams - which provide entrance into engineering and medical courses respectively - are usually held in April and May every year. This time around, on account of the pandemic and nationwide lockdown, they were deferred - twice.

But the new dates seem all but set in stone. Despite backlash from many quarters, the Ministry of Education has decided to not postpone the exams again.

Needless to say, the spectre of hundreds of thousands of students taking tests offline amidst a raging pandemic is one that has discomforted many. Most of all the students.

And the conundrum of how to ensure educational continuity during an age of lockdowns and social distancing has been playing out for some time now.


Of Colleges and Universities: In recent weeks, college students were up in arms over the July 6th guidelines prescribed by the University Grants Commission (UGC). These guidelines directed universities and colleges across the country to conduct final-year exams by September 30th.

The matter soon went to the Supreme Court; the petitioners said conducting exams in this climate was dangerous and asked for alternative routes to be considered. For instance, the Delhi and Maharashtra state governments’ earlier decision to forego final-year exams and promote students based on their performance in the previous semester.

Yesterday, the apex court ruled that students cannot be promoted without exams being held. However, the SC also stated that colleges can approach the UGC for an extension of the September 30th deadline.

But several exams have already been conducted in recent weeks despite the pandemic. For example, the Kerala Engineering Architecture Medical (KEAM) went ahead as per schedule, despite widespread criticism. (FYI: At least five students tested positive after the exam.)


Arguments in favour of conducting exams 

Graduating students without final-year assessments could seriously impinge their future job prospects. Employers may be reluctant to hire those whose degree certificates weren’t subject to the traditional level of scrutiny.

Moreover, repeated rescheduling of exams can have a negative effect on students’ mental health. And postponing them to a much later date will put a strain on the education system and throw the academic calendar out of the window.

What’s more...Delhi and Maharashtra’s decision to cancel final-year exams was met with incredulity by educational councils and the UGC, who contended that higher education is a prerogative of the Central Government and not the states. Either way, having different testing rules for different states is a recipe for chaos.


Arguments against conducting exams

Well, the simple truth is that the country is in the middle of a pandemic. And the end is nowhere in sight.

India’s COVID count has been spiralling out of control. It has posted the highest single-day caseload increase worldwide every day since August 7th, and is expected to soon overtake Brazil to become the second-worst affected nation in terms of confirmed cases.

Asking students to travel to exam centres amidst such a situation would invariably mean putting their lives (and the lives of their parents and families back home) in danger. Many students live in containment zones. Many are still recovering from a COVID infection themselves. Many returned home days before the lockdown was announced while leaving most of their notes, textbooks and devices back in their hostels.

Online classes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea either. Many colleges have not been able to teach the entire syllabus. Many students have struggled to follow - either due to lack of material or lack of technology. Many don’t have laptops or smartphones at home, and many can’t even afford an internet connection.

Moreover, the monsoon has led to excessive flooding in as many as 11 states in recent weeks. This makes it more challenging for students to study, attend classes or give examinations.


What will a national exam in the era of COVID-19 look like?

The way things stand as of now, at least JEE and NEET are likely to be conducted as planned starting Tuesday. (Final-year college exams are required to be conducted by September 30th.)

JEE (Main) would be the first national examination conducted since the inception of the pandemic in India. The National Testing Agency (NTA) has revealed the blueprint it is adopting to ensure it is conducted safely.

So what does a “safe” national-level entrance exam during a pandemic look like?

Ten lakh masks, 10 lakh pairs of gloves, 1,300 infrared thermometer guns, 6,600 litres of hand sanitiser and an equal amount of disinfectant liquid, 6,600 sponges, 3,300 spray bottles and 3,300 cleaning staff in 660 test sites.

The exam will be conducted in two three-hour shifts each day: 9 am to 12 pm and then 3 pm to 6 pm. In between the two slots, the computers and seating areas will be sanitised.

The Aarogya Setu app and face masks are mandatory, students will be checked for symptoms, and document verification, security check and registration will all be touch-free. To avoid crowding, candidates have been assigned time slots for reporting at the centres (maximum of 40 students can report in one 20-minute slot).

Needless to say, no matter how many checks are put in place, the risk of infection will always remain. The risk can be reduced by ensuring social distancing, sanitisation and hygiene; but it can never be entirely eliminated.


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