1.6 Million Students Forced To Take National Exams In India Amid Alarming Covid-19 Numbers

India, the second most populous country in the world has so far recorded 3.62 million cases of Covid-19, 2.77 million recoveries and over 64,469 recoveries.

In its latest update on August 30, 2020, India recorded 78,761 new cases of Covid-19. This, according to the New York Times, is the fastest-growing coronavirus caseload of any country in the world.

Despite this, the country is embarking on the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) (Main), and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), as from tomorrow, September 1, 2020. The exams bring together over 1.6 million candidates at a time the country’s Covid-19 cases are escalating at an alarming rate.

The JEE (Main) exam will be held in 660 centres across India while NEET candidates will take the exam in 3842 test centres on September 13.

This has caused an uproar worldwide, with students from different parts of the world opposing the move by Indian government. On the other hand, students and citizens from India have flooded the streets demanding that the exams be postponed.

Despite pressure from lobby groups, the government of India has maintained that the exams will go on as planned.

With the push and pull between the government, the opposition and lobby groups, tension has escalated both in government offices and the streets, with hundreds of protesters being arrested.

Indian media reports that National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) President Neeraj Kundan was forcefully hospitalised by Delhi Police after going on hunger strike for demanding postponement of the exams.

On August 28, six opposition-led states including WB, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, Punjab and Maharashtra filed a joint Petition in Supreme Court seeking to postpone the exams, citing logistic issues such as floods and the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a health risk.

According to the General Secretary, Indian National Congress Priyanka Gandhi, forcing the students to undertake the exams would amount to exposing them to health risks, rather than safeguarding their future.

“The govt cannot ignore the voices of the students appearing for #JEE_NEET exams and those of their concerned parents. They are the future of our country. With the rising scale of the pandemic, is it fair to expose them to infection in this manner? Are they not our children too?” Gandhi wrote on Twitter.

The government on its side argues that it has to keep the academic calendar on track, and not keep students in perpetual uncertainty.

IIT Delhi Director V Ramgopal Rao says that any further delay in conducting entrance exams JEE and NEET will have “serious repercussions” on not only the academic calendar but also career of bright students.

“The consequences of postponing these exams any further can have serious repercussions on IIT academic calendars and for candidates. I fail to see how we can run two batches together. It will become a zero academic year for lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of students. Our academic calendars are too packed already and linked to too many other things. The delays can impact the careers of so many bright students.

Read: Kenyans on Twitter Join India Students in Protest Against Push for the Postponement of National Exam

“We have already lost six months. If we conduct the exams in September, we can at least start the sessions in Indian Institutes of Technology (could be online) in December. Tinkering with the examination pattern or admission processes in these times will also be detrimental and unfair for everyone,” Rao said in a social media post.

He claimed that the country was well prepared for the exams, and students needed not to worry about any infections emanating from interactions in the exam rooms.

“Personally, I am for conducting these examinations by taking all precautions and following social distancing norms. Lockdown is not a solution to COVID. Lockdown was needed to prepare ourselves better. COVID is not going to go away for another six months to one year. We all need to get used to this new normal,” he added.

Recently, the National Testing Agency in India conducted a National Aptitude Test in Architecture (NATA) on 30,000 candidates, and venues were seen crowded with little to no social distancing. The situation could be worse, in regard to the number of students involved in the NEET-JEE exams.

More interactions could further increase the chances of contracting Covid-19, since most students will travel for long distances to take their exams.

Among the opposition leaders in India who are seeking to have the exams postponed include Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and DMK president M K Stalin.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to address the nation anytime before the exams start.

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