The JEE and NEET 2020 exams have been a source of much controversy over the past few weeks (and will perhaps continue to be so over the next month). Twice postponed before, the JEE MAINS and NEET exams were finally scheduled for September 1 to 6 and 13 respectively. It was opposed by student litigants with the Supreme Court only echoing the decision of the government and mandating the conduction of exams. Since then, Congress has led an alliance of six states urging the SC to rethink its decision, amidst the concerns of the COVID-19 crisis, the lack of transport facilities, and the flood situation in areas of Bihar, Assam and Gujarat.
The issue of indefinite postponement falls short of the ideal for three major reasons. First, there is no specific date for the pandemic to end. It will take months for the development, procurement and administration of the vaccine to over a billion people in the country. Should the entrance exams be postponed, the academic year will not be completed on time (thanks to the tremendous syllabus of the IITs and the IIMs!). It would lead to a ‘zero academic year’ for over 25 lakh students comprising the nearly 8.5 lakh registrations for JEE and 16 lakh registrations for NEET. This would be a no-win situation for students and perhaps a better choice is to give an option to the students, who are willing and have invested a lot of time and effort, to appear for the exams. Secondly, a gap year for all students would essentially mean that the competition would double the next year resulting in a possible 50 lakh-plus students competing for limited seats. Finally, it will have far-reaching implications on the job security of faculty in various private sector colleges and universities. With no fresh batch of students intake for the first year, the colleges might be forced to cut down the faculty and non-teaching staff. The position of ad-hoc teachers in public sector colleges may become even more critical than normal.
The discussion has been reduced to the binaries of exams or no exams with no innovative middle-ground solution arriving from the government or academic intelligentsia. The proposition of conducting online entrance exams or allotting seats on the basis of Class 12 results has been bilaterally shot down. Judging by the above criteria, it is sensible to conduct the exams provided that proper safeguards are put into place. Yes, the public health crisis is a real concern for lakhs of students appearing for the exams and it is exactly to that end that centre and state governments need to coordinate rather than to politicise the issue. The hypocrisy of Congress and BJP is not hidden when they have violated the social distancing norms, be it the active protests by Congress ministers and students union gathering in hundreds to oppose the exams or the BJP’s decision to hold a grand opening ceremony for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Now that the exams are scheduled from September 1, the focus should really be on doing the groundwork to conduct a safe examination process.
What needs to be done
On 17th August, the Supreme court backed the central government decision to hold the exams. The opposition, led by the Congress, came a week later but perhaps did too little too late. A more prudent stance would have been to coordinate with the local and central government to ensure proper transportation and safety protocols for the students as per the guidelines of National Testing Agency (NTA). Still, all hope is not lost and if SC rethinks its decision, a clear cut fresh date within foreseeable future must be provided and the intervening time must be used efficiently to tackle the operational challenges The situation demands a collective effort by all political parties.
Logistical problems can be solved by operating public transport for the students in need. Area-mapping can be done to facilitate the process. If a celebrity like Sonu Sood can offer to help transport students in the flood-hit areas of Bihar, Assam and Gujarat, then surely the state governments should prove to be more responsible and competent. Provision has been made to allow students from containment areas to pass freely by showing admit cards (except Tamil Nadu, where an additional e-pass is required) and cooperation from local police is necessary. NTA, the official government agency to conduct entrance examinations for higher educational institutions, has increased the number of centres and provided safety protocols such as no frisking, staggered time slots for reporting, odd-even seating scheme and contact-less verification of documents. The NTA chief, Vineet Joshi, has time and again reassured that proper provisions are in place.
However, much of the scepticism remains about the adequate ground-level infrastructure and execution to be carried out. A perfect recipe for disaster awaits students unless the BJP and the Congress and other parties join hands to conduct the exams in the near future.
Prakash Singh AFP
By Kush Bansal
Kush Bansal is a third year Political Science student at Hindu College and a member at The Symposium Society. Interested in political theory, he loves a conversation on ethics and moral philosophy. He is also a sports enthusiast and plays football and tennis.