NEET and JEE – India’s entrance exams for admission to medical and engineering colleges have divided the student community in the country, with most of them demanding that the government postpone them over the health risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic and floods in several parts of the nation.
In India, a high school graduate must sit for nationwide exams to be eligible for the chance to enter a medical or engineering college for higher studies.
At least 2 million students in the country will participate in the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for engineering colleges and the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) exams for medical. The exams are scheduled for next month.
The students, however, are demanding the postponement of the exams until the situation improves in the country.
“I am prepared for the exams,” Kumar Indranand, 19, from the flood-hit Bihar state, told Anadolu Agency. He, however, explained why students like him do not want the exams to be held next month.
“Everyone is worried, and there is a fear about the spread of COVID-19. There is no guarantee that I will reach the exam center [180 kilometers or 111 miles away] and then return to home without getting infected.”
Kumar said the government should wait for some time before the exam is conducted. “The COVID-19 numbers are increasing,” he said, adding: “It is better to wait for the safety of the students across the country.”
Gaurav Mishra, 21, another aspirant for the medical exam, however, said the exams should be held on time “if the government ensures the safety of everyone showing up for the exam”.
“They have to keep the safety of students in mind,” he added.
Mishra downloaded the official exam admission card which said his examination center is 130 kilometers (80 miles) away from his home in Bihar. “I will take the exam because there is no option left,” he said.
– ‘Hunger strike to postpone exams’
On Sunday, 4,000 students observed a day-long hunger strike to press their demand to postpone the exams.
Rakesh Sharma from a Rajasthan-based tuition centre which trains students for competitive exams said parents are also worried for multiple reasons.
“The first problem is accessibility. When there is no public transport and trains available, how will a student reach the exam venue on time? In addition, what is the surety that a student is not infected?” he said and added: “No parent wants to put their children’s lives at a health risk.”
Sharma also said the government should wait for a few months. “If the government has decided to conduct exams now, then they have to take extra precautions for students.”
Politicians across parties in the country have backed the demand to postpone the exams.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee said: “It is our duty to ensure a safe environment for all our students.” Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Indian National Congress in the lower house of the parliament, has also urged postponement of examinations, while several other politicians have demanded the same.
Young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also indicated her support: “It’s deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the COVID-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID,” she tweeted.
Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter the government must find an acceptable solution. “They have genuine concerns of: – fear of Covid19 infection – transport & lodging during a pandemic – flood-mayhem in Assam & Bihar. GOI must listen to all stakeholders & find an acceptable solution.#AntiStudentModiGovt,” he tweeted.
While his party held protests across the country on Friday against the government’s move, the youth wing members have begun a hunger strike in protest against holding the exams.
Experts and academics in the country stress that the government has to play a key role if they are going ahead with the exams next month. Over 100 academicians from India and abroad have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in support of postponing the exams.
“The government has to also ensure that there are proper facilities available at the exam centers,” Anikat Kumar, an academic who also runs an examination center in Bihar, told Anadolu Agency.
“These exams were deferred twice earlier, and if we continue to postpone again, then exams will never happen because no one knows when COVID-19 ends.”
Sunita Gandhi, an educator in India, said she does not see the COVID-19 situation changing soon in the country. “Therefore, I would say exams should be conducted as per schedule,” she said.
– Demand of students
In a press release issued Tuesday, the National Testing Agency announced that exams will be held in the first half of September, adding: “The Supreme Court has also inter alia ordered that ‘We find that there is absolutely no justification in the – prayer (application) made for postponement of the examination in question relating to NEET UG-2020 as well as JEE (Main) April 2020,” referring to the Indian Supreme Court’s recent order which rejected a plea by students seeking the postponement of exams.
It also noted that the number of examination centers have been raised from 570 to 660 for the JEE and from 2,546 to 3,843 for the NEET.
Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank in an interview with government broadcaster Doordarshan defended the government’s move to conduct the exams across the country.
“We have been under constant pressure from parents and students asking why we are not postponing JEE and NEET,” he said.
Of the 858,000 students who registered for JEE, 725,000 candidates have downloaded their exam admission cards.
“We are with students. Their safety comes first, then their education,” Nishank added.
National Testing Agency Director-General Vineet Joshi also in an interview with Doordarshan has said the government has made all arrangements for the exams.
“We cannot lose more time worrying about natural disasters like floods. Nobody can foresee anything. We can work in saving the academic calendar. It is good for students,” he was quoted as saying in a report published by local broadcaster News18.
Experts say there should be no overcrowding at the centers on the exam days as part of measures fighting the spread of COVID-19.
“The decision to hold the JEE-NEET exams with safety measures is a welcoming step as students may lose one year. However, all safety procedures must be followed strictly such as physical distances of 1.5 meters [4.92 feet], sanitization, and restricting crowding near the center,” Suman Mor, a faculty member at Panjab University north India, told Anadolu Agency.
In the last 24 hours, the Indian Health Ministry said over 75,000 new cases and 1,021 additional deaths were reported across the country. The country has reported over 3.46 million infections so far, including more than 2.64 million recoveries and at least 62,550 fatalities.