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Why Education Ministry’s Recent Decision To Hold NEET & JEE Is Unfair, Elitist, And Dangerous

Posted: August 26, 2020

Is it fair or justified for the education ministry to go ahead with the NEET/ JEE exams as it can be dangerous mentally and physically to students, and put their careers and lives in jeopardy?

Twitter has been trending with hashtags to delay the scheduled NEET/JEE exams, in addition to hunger strikes, protests but with no avail. Students have started to understand the ‘social bubbles’ that had cocooned them so long.

Following the tweet by climate change activist Greta Thunberg in support of the students, the issue of JEE/NEET exams 2020 has started to snowball but the education ministry is firm on its mandate to conduct the exams this year. Already postponed by months, the exams are scheduled in September 2020, with around 15 lakh, 9 lakh aspirants attempting NEET and JEE respectively.

Cracking the “entrance” exams for “eligibility” to courses in medicine, engineering has been the “holy grail” for middle-class aspirations in the country. The exams are a rigorous academic marathon that children start training from secondary schools. The cottage industry of coaching, tuitions etc has kept pace with the times and preparation, financial planning of many families revolves around these exams.

The NEET/JEE pandemic row

Setting aside other arguments about these examinations, this time there is a widespread outcry at the callousness of the government with regard to students. With cases of COVID increasing day by day, the decision of the ministry to go ahead with the exams has put many students in a lurch. In addition to the pandemic, floods, rains, lack of public transportations, shortage of examination centres has made just arrival at the examination centre a gargantuan task.

Students have also raised concerns from a basic level that writing exams wearing the mask is a tough thing (for students who wear glasses). The constant cleaning of mist will not give them time nor concentration to process the questions. The years spent tackling the subjects, preparing for speed would be drowned in simply wiping the glasses every few minutes.

The government on its part has shared guidelines to follow while conducting these exams. While the paper planning has been “basic” the ground reality of these guidelines is a cruel joke.

Anyone who has taken any exam in the country knows that examination centres are bee-hives of anxious parents who diligently wait outside throughout the entire exercise. With insufficient increase in centres, crowd management is another issue that the states cannot tackle given the pandemic situation. The decision to go ahead with the exams has been met with widespread protest online, with many state governments too supporting the students’ stand. 

Uncertain ‘futures’

While the government chooses to ignore all these arguments, in favour of the student’s “future”, it is important to ask what will be the future of a student who essentially risks her/his family’s health to take up the exam.

The costs of treating COVID, is a financial burden that most families simply cannot afford. The emotional toll on students who may become carriers would overwhelm many families, (which in India are joint) who are already dealing with financial, emotional toll following the lock-down.

Also, it’s going to be hard for many students who themselves suffer from a weakened immune system to take up the exam. It’s going to be discriminatory and doesn’t those student’s future matter?

Families from middle- and lower-income value education for social mobility. They spend their lives chalking out plans for their children’s future. Many parents can relate how they had spent the last few years just driving their kids from classes to coaching centres or waking up at odd hours to keep up with their kid’s study schedule.

The careful financial planning to accommodate the costs of these classes has made these exams a high stake, prestige battle in Indian households. Taking up the exams pawning their life is a hard sell for the families who have pinned years of hope on their children.

Playing with lives of students

At the cusp of adulthood, the students preparing, taking these exams are already fragile, tense with anxiousness which is only going to be aggravated in the face of such impossible challenges. The risk of infection, community spread, medical costs are the add-ons that the government has no plans to address putting the entire onus on the student and their families.

Competitive exams like NEET/JEE are discriminatory enough when it comes to social justice but the emotional toll on students is going to be a greater social tragedy. There is also increased pressure on many students, who do not have the financial or other resources to take up the exams again. Without means to continue, under extreme duress to deliver, they are going to face immense pressure that impacts their mental well-being. By simply postponing the exams the actual “futures” of the lakhs of students can follow a positive path, rather than the present alternative, where Indian families are walking blindfolded towards the next social calamity.

Image source: Shutterstock

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