The last few days have seen a concentrated campaign to further delay the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE exams). The movement is led by students who argue that the present conditions are not conducive for conducting these exams – and they seek more time until the pandemic comes under control.
This demand has gained traction due to political opportunism by India’s opposition parties – while many international activists have also stepped in to comment on the matter.
The critical argument being presented is that the examination must be delayed to allow for the situation to improve before the exams are conducted.
This despite nearly 90 per cent of students have already downloaded their admit cards. The call for delaying the exam has purely become a political issue – more so after Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi dragged themselves into this controversy.
There are two important issues that must be recognised here, first is that as a developing country, any delays in conducting the examinations has serious implications for the entire academic year.
As is the case, the exams will be conducted in September which means a significant part of the time of the first semester would be lost in the process. To delay it by another two months implies virtually an entire semester of the programme is lost requiring universities to extend the programme by a semester towards the end.
However, many times the courses offered across different batches are adjusted according to the semesters to reduce the class-load on a particular professor.
Getting entire semesters readjusted would be an administrative difficulty.
However, this assumes that we would be in a position to hold the exams in next two months.
It is well recognised by now that the chances of Covid-19 cases increasing are higher during cold temperature – and thus, delaying it to winters poses greater risks for children.
Another important fact is regarding the second wave of cases which are being witnessed across the world, at present, and this implies that there will be a second wave of cases even in India.
The key is therefore to have the tests before the second wave hits us. Delaying the tests therefore is far riskier as a proposition and threatens to undermine the future of our doctors and engineers.
Such delays could well imply that an entire academic year is lost across our engineering and medical colleges – resulting in double the number of students appearing for the same set of seats next year. This in turn, will reduce the chances of students obtaining admission in any of the colleges.
Moreover, with an entire year lost, the costs of maintaining and running an engineering or medical college would increase substantially – both in monetary terms and also in terms of shortages for doctors.
There is another issue of maximum age to appear for these exams and this factor is also important when one views the discussion regarding whether to hold the examination right now or delay it further.
We have evidence to argue that delaying it might be more risky, while there is little information to suggest that Covid-19 will be under control two months down the line. These delays in examinations have no endgame and therefore are counterproductive.
To summarise, let us view the case of road accidents. That there are road accidents is recognised – but just because of deaths due to road accidents, government does not prohibit driving.
They issue rules such as wearing seatbelts etc, and focus on spreading awareness to prevent road accidents.
Similarly, in the case of Covid-19, the government should focus on making rules such as mandating masks and focus on awareness towards maintaining proper hygiene.
The pandemic is here to stay and very likely we will have to wait for a few months for a vaccine to be developed.
Life cannot be stopped until a vaccine is developed. India’s biggest strength is its demographic dividend and skilled workforce – wasting an entire academic year would be an attempt to undermine the same.
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