Conducting NEET/JEE exams in Covid times is not easy, but scrapping them is no solution

| Updated on August 28, 2020

The Union Education Minister has advanced the case of holding the exams on the basis of a strong demand from students and their parents

The controversy around holding the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) to engineering colleges and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for MBBS/BDS admissions has intensified as the dates draw near. Six opposition-ruled States moved a review petition in the Supreme Court on Friday against its order allowing the Centre to hold the exams. The Supreme Court had earlier dismissed a plea for postponement of the exam dates. The States have cited “teething logistical difficulties” days before the exams are scheduled — adding to the anxiety and uncertainty of lakhs of aspirants who prepare years in advance for coveted seats in professional colleges. As things stand, the National Testing Agency, which conducts the exams, has scheduled NEET on September 13 and JEE Main from September 1-6, two months later than usual owing to Covid-19 crisis. The Union Education Minister has advanced the case of holding the exams on these dates on the basis of a strong demand from students and their parents who, according to him, want them at the earliest “at any cost”. He has cited 17 lakh aspirants — 10 lakh for NEET and seven lakh JEE — who have downloaded their admit cards to show how eager they are to write their exams.

There is merit both in the Minister’s argument as also in the logistical problems highlighted by chief ministers. In States such as Bihar, Assam, West Bengal and Odisha, floods have compounded the problem of access in addition to suspension of public transport and availability of accommodation in the Covid context. There is also the problem of the dates coinciding with weekend lockdowns; September 13, the day of the NEET exam, happens to be a Sunday. Reaching exam centres can be an ordeal even in normal times for poor students and girl aspirants. Odisha, for instance, has seven centres — Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balasore, Berhampur, Dhenkanal, Rourkela and Sambalpur. For a JEE aspirant in the southern-most district of Malkangiri, the closest centre in the State is Berhampur which is 440 kilometres.

There is decidedly a case for not letting an academic year pass, yet there are strong reasons to believe that a large number of aspirants, especially those from the remote and poor regions, would not be able to access exam centres. Given that one of goals of national entrance tests for professional courses is to advance social mobility for poorer students, this cannot be an acceptable situation. An alternative would be to hold a supplementary exam in the coming months. The results for both exams can be jointly declared. That should cover the concerns of those who want to write the exam at the earliest as also those who are hampered by logistics.

Published on August 28, 2020

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