Over the past many days, several JEE and NEET aspirants have been mounting a strident campaign demanding that the two big-ticket entrance exams scheduled in September be postponed. That’s because they feel it is not safe for them to venture out of home to the exam centres and take these exams amidst the Covid pandemic. 10 lakh students will take the JEE (for admission to IITs and NITs) while over 16 lakh will appear for the NEET, which is the entrance exam to medical colleges in India.
Also read : The Inside Story of the Petitions
In the legal space, this campaign has been in the form of a petition in the Supreme Court seeking postponement – this is coming up on 17 August for its first hearing. However, there are reportedly four counter petitions as well, that are demanding the conduct of the exam on schedule. In the virtual space, students claim there have been close to a million tweets and retweets demanding postponement and hundreds of email written to the Supreme Court.
On its part, the National Testing Agency (NTA) that conducts both JEE Mains and NEET, has said it is committed to conducting the exam and that all Standard Operating Procedures will be followed in letter and spirit. In an interview to Filter Kaapi YouTube channel this week, Dr Vineet Joshi, himself an alumni of IIT Kanpur, said every decision will be taken in the best academic interests of the students.
Then why are many students spending more time on different forms of social media than on their preparation? These are the reasons.
1. With 65000 cases being reported everyday since 7 August and India crossing the 25 lakh mark, a sense of panic has set in. That any exposure to the outside world, particularly where so many students and parents will be assembled, is fraught with risk.
2. The authorities who conducted the Karnataka Common Entrance Test and the B.Ed entrance exam in Uttar Pradesh did not cover themselves with glory. Social distancing was thrown to the winds at several centres with no discipline maintained outside the exam centres.
3. Eminent people like former President Pranab Mukherjee, legendary singer SP Balasubrahmanyam have contracted the Corona infection and students ask if those who take sufficient precautions are contracting the virus, how can students who will be in close proximity to hundreds of people on the day of exam be safe. The fact that Lav Agarwal, the Joint Secretary in the Union Health ministry and the face of the government’s fight against Covid, has tested Covid positive, is a point that cannot be missed.
4. Finally, the WHO itself has said now that while Corona infection spreads mainly by droplets from person to person, it can also be through small droplets or aerosols that remain in air for some time and through fomites. Dr Soumya Swamination, Chief Scientist of the WHO put out a tweet in which she cautioned that in closed, crowded settings, aerosol spread could happen and precautions should be taken. “The science is evolving,” she added.
The ball is now in the Supreme Court and it would do well to demand that the authorities have convincing answers to each one of the concerns of the student community. The result of KCET and B.Ed is that there is a trust deficit and it is a gap that needs to be bridged. Monday will hopefully provide us with answers on how the Education ministry and the NTA hopes to achieve that.