As COVID19 cases rise, students demand entrance exams be postponed

The National Testing Agency (NTA), responsible for conducting Delhi University Entrance Test (DUET), UGC-National Eligibility Test, MBA and PhD entrance exams for Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and more, announced the schedule for commencement of exams on 20th August.

Schedule for JEE Mains and NEET UG entrance exam had been announced in July, following which, 11 students filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to postpone the exams. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari dismissed the plea on 17th August, with Justice Arun Mishra stating, “Life should move on even in COVID-19 times. Can we just stop exams? We should move on.”

According to the current schedule released by NTA, JEE-Mains are to be held from September 1st-6th, followed by Delhi University Entrance Test (DUET)-2020 from 6-11th. ICAR AIEEA 2020 is scheduled on 7th and 8th of September, followed by the rest.

NTA has listed 24 cities where entrance exams will be conducted for DUET. The prevailing conditions of the COVID19 pandemic have led to students expressing concerns over the inaccessibility of centres with many reconsidering sitting for the entrances.

Nazarene Sangma, a resident of West Garo Hills, Meghalaya had planned to apply for postgraduate courses this year but is now finding it increasingly difficult to sit for DUET. Her closest exam centre is in Guwahati, Assam. The state of Assam has recorded 90,000 COVID 19 cases and the state observed a weekend lockdown on 22nd and 23rd August, with three districts of the Barak Valley planning to go under total lockdown for ten days.

Nazarene stated, “Even if I do get to sit for the exam somehow, I won’t be able to return to my state as they’re not allowing the entry of outsiders into the state w.e.f 30th August”, referring to the Meghalaya government’s decision to shut all entry points for one week every month for the next three months, starting from September. Nazarene also claims that numerous students from her region have emailed the DUET authorities expressing their concerns that, “students from states in the North East will have to travel to either Assam or Manipur to take their exam while some of their home states are under lockdown.”

“I spoke to my parents about going to Guwahati to sit for the exam. Their answer was simply ‘No’. They are extremely worried and they only care about my health at this moment”, she added.

The dearth of exam centres is an issue reiterated by students across the country. Amal K Simon from the Palakkad district of Kerala expressed his concern regarding the DUET saying, “There is only one city with NTA centres in Kerala, i.e., Thiruvananthapuram, which is more than 300 Kms from my district. Right now there are more than 5000 active cases in Thiruvananthapuram. The situation in Kerala is very bad. To give the exam we should reach the city at least a day earlier. Most hotels are functioning as quarantine centres so we have to look for accommodation at our friends’ houses.” He further added, “NTA is supposed to issue admit cards 15 days before the exam, but till now they haven’t been released. I had opted for Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru and Chennai as my three choices for the exam centre but since the admit cards have not been issued, I don’t know where I have to go for the exam.”

Various students studying at the University of Delhi for their undergraduate had opted for Delhi as their exam centre anticipating that the entrance exam will take place once the pandemic ends and they finish their Bachelors. “As a student of Delhi University, I had opted for the centre preference in Delhi. Few universities let us change the centres; some didn’t”, a student from Nagpur claimed, “Universities like Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD) do not have many choices for centres, for example, in my state, there is only one centre. Conducting exams would involve mass travelling both interstate and intrastate. And that would jeopardise the lives of so many students if they somehow manage to reach the centres battling with all the financial and other constraints they are facing.”

She highlighted the ambiguity regarding guidelines saying, “There are hardly any guidelines being issued for students who will be travelling to give exams. We don’t know what quarantine guidelines will be applicable to us. If the usual quarantine guidelines will be applied to us as well, how will many of us manage accommodation and other facilities? This environment of uncertainty that has been created only reflects the sheer apathy of those in power towards the concerns of students. To conduct exams only when things get better is the only optimal solution, keeping in mind the welfare of all stakeholders involved.”

While the NTA has issued safety guidelines for students, they pertain to social distancing and sanitation in the exam centre itself and none explicitly deal with the issues faced by thousands of students who will either have to put their health or their education at risk during a global pandemic.

Students ran Twitter campaigns for four consecutive days asking for entrance exams to be postponed. Concerns were raised regarding students actively suffering from COVID 19 and whether they will be allowed to reappear for the exams at a later date. In addition to the health crisis, the recent floods in Assam and Bihar have ravaged homes, affecting nearly 2.4 million people in Bihar itself. The rainfall and floods are likely to put students from affected areas at a disadvantage. Many were also quick to point out that the B.Ed entrance examination for Agra University and the Kerala Engineering Architecture Medical (KEAM) examination, conducted during the pandemic, both led to a spike in cases with numerous students testing COVID positive despite examination authorities announcing strict safety guidelines.

Yameena Z is a student of Sociology at Miranda House, University of Delhi, and a freelance journalist.