~ by Dr. Dev Desai
The extensive coverage which the scheduling of all India exams like NEET and JEE in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic has been getting takes me back to the first half of this year. Having completed by MBBS, I was at home preparing for the post-graduate entrance exams to be held in May. Then Covid struck and the AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) exam was delayed twice, first pushed to 5th June from 3rd May and then finally held on 11th of June, while the PGIMER (Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research) was rescheduled to 14th of June. Those were amongst the most stressful days I have been through because of the uncertainty surrounding the exams (for example- the AIIMS exam was going to happen on 5th June, till they suddenly told us that it is further delayed on late night of 3rd June) and I can fully empathise with the lakhs of Medicine and Engineering aspirants all over India.
There has been spate of protests by various people and groups, ranging from non-BJP state governments to celebrity school bunkers, demanding that the exams be postponed as the students and their families will be at risk of contracting Covid-19. I strongly believe that the exams must go through as scheduled, without any further delays and here is why I feel so.
Firstly, even the best of researchers and epidemiologists fail to come to a conclusion as to when exactly the pandemic will be over and multiple models have been put forward; many of whose predicted dates of peaking have already passed without any peak in sight. In such a situation, till when can we continue kicking the can down the line and for what reason? I myself hate the word ‘new normal’ and yearn for the life of the pre-Covid times to be back at the earliest, but one can not wish away the fact that the ‘new normal’ is here to stay for the foreseeable future and all of us must get our lives back on track with necessary adaptations. This means that the exams must be held at the earliest, with all necessary precautions in place.
Those demanding further delays in the exams should think about the situation 4 or 5 years down the line. If no freshers are admitted this year, in 2025/26, there will not be any pass-outs to recruit for the job market. This problem will be particularly acute in the medical sector where most of the rural PHCs depend on fresh pass-outs for manpower. Many institutes have already imposed mandatory extensions on their final year post graduate (MD/MS) students to maintain the hospital services till the fresh batch joins. Without the fresher batch joining, the health infrastructure already stretched thin by Covid-19, won’t take long to totally crumble. Moreover, assuming that no entrance exams happen this year, but class 12 studies go on as scheduled and board exams are held in next March, will not double the number of students compete for the same number of seats in next year’s session?
The question to be asked is do those leading these protests against conducting the exams actually have the students interests at heart or is it just another political attention-grabbing gimmick? Surveys have already shown that students are the most stressed group during this pandemic and adding uncertainty regarding exams to this situation, will only stress them further. I can vouch from my own experience that every time the date for the exam is changed, you feel like a lot of your planning has come undone and you have to press the reset button to modify your final revision schedule to ensure that you peak at the right moment and every time you reset, more you feel stressed. Most are merely using the students and the pandemic as an excuse to further their own political interests or grab some cheap publicity. The opposition having failed to counter Modi politically, now wants to unleash chaos and anarchy in the society, and restart their nefarious designs which had been witnessed at the start of the year in Shaheen Bagh and other places but had to be paused due to Covid-19. Understand that JEE and NEET are highly competitive exams and a very miniscule number among those who appear for the exams, get the seat they want. The game plan of the opposition is cunningly simple- let the overwhelming majority who do not succeed blame the government for not delaying the exam, because there is always an ‘if only’. Ironically, most of the protest marches held demanding delaying the exams to prevent students from getting exposed to the virus, have had scant regard for social distancing or mask etiquette; this should be enough to gauge the seriousness of these marches.
This is not to say that the safety of the students and their families should be laid by the wayside. When I gave the entrance exams in June, the authorities concerned increased the number of centres all across India to reduce crowding per centre, made us sit at least 6 feet far from each other, masks were mandatory and we had to keep sanitising hands frequently. Similar precautions must be followed meticulously for the upcoming exams too. Another practical problem could be arranging transport to the centre, though many states have reopened public transport modalities gradually in various stages of ‘Unlock’. The Odisha government has taken an appreciable step in this regard by announcing transport assistance to those who need it on the day of the exam and other states must follow suit. If some people are still scared enough not to give the exams (a small number as suggested by an overwhelming majority having already downloaded the admit cards), let them skip this year and appear next year or whenever they feel comfortable.
As someone who has been through a similar situation, my only advice to students who are preparing for these exams is to ignore all these demands for delay (those who are not serious about the exams in the first place make the loudest noise for delays) and continue revising whatever they have studied. Remain confident, you have been preparing for 2 years (if not more) and you have already gotten around 3 months more than usual to boost your preparations. All the very best for the exams as well as life ahead.