While academicians, educationists and experts are fully supportive of having the exams in September 2020, India's hopelessly clueless opposition is back to playing the same old hackneyed games, to muster support for it's withering agendas.
Over 7 lakh students have already downloaded their admit cards for JEE and over 10 lakh for NEET
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg is controversy's favourite child. From that indignant " How Dare You?", which made her climate change's famous poster girl,to now a 17 year old Swedish school dropout, who relishes politics,Greta Thunberg has triggered a storm yet again.She is smart, or rather too oversmart.Her outrageously vocal public statement in favour of postponement of the JEE and NEET exams in India,due to the pandemic,run in sharp contrast to her docile and submissive meek silence on riots by lawless Jihadis in Malmo,a town in Sweden, her home country.So much for being a clueless, flaky climate activist!
Moving away from Greta,the issue of postponement of JEE and NEET exams,merit a serious discussion, given the concern shown by some vested segments,who under the garb of speaking up for students and aspirants,are simply playing to the gallery,to garner a few brownie points.Mamata Banerjee,Chief Minister of West Bengal,is one such agenda driven politician.She has no sympathy or empathy for students and is simply politicising the issue for petty political gains and what is worse,she is a habitual offender.She has repeatedly taken a belligerent stand against the BJP led central government's public welfare measures,by compromising the welfare of over 9 crore people of Bengal.
For instance,during the lockdown, the Modi government started distributing free 5 kg of rice or wheat per person and 1 kg of chana/pulses per household under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), to over 81 crore beneficiaries. This is over and above the monthly quota of subsidised foodgrains distributed via the public distribution system (PDS), to those registered under the National Food Security Act( NFSA).Governor of West Bengal,Jagdeep Dhankhar, had fervently appealed to Mamata to allow free ration to be given under PMGKY,so that the poor,downtrodden & migrants could benefit. She however,refused,consumed by ill tempered hubris. Mamata's decision to now reportedly,have a complete lockdown in Bengal,on September 11 and 12,again reeks of a deviously puerile behaviour,only so that the NEET exams on September 13, are derailed.
The Ministry of Education has rightfully decided not to postpone the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE)-Main and National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET). The National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts these exams, said-- “the examination is going to be held with due precaution and it is not going to be postponed. The NTA also said that 99.07% of JEE (Main) aspirants have been offered their preferred choice of exam centres, while the same figure is 99.87%, in the case of NEET candidates.
JEE (Main) is scheduled to be held from 1-6 September 2020, while NEET is scheduled on 13 September, 2020. Owing to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country, students have been demanding delaying the exams, which have already been postponed twice. Should the JEE-NEET exams scheduled for September,be postponed, thanks to the ongoing disruption of normal life?
The historic judgement on August 17, 2020, by a three-judge bench headed by justice Arun Mishra, on this matter, unanimously, said--“We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question, relating to NEET UG-2020 as well as JEE (Main). In our opinion, though there is a pandemic situation, ultimately life has to go on and the career of the students cannot be put in peril for long and a full academic year cannot be wasted,”. In effect,the Supreme Court categorically ruled that the said exams should be held in September and not be postponed any further.
Speaking of NEET,in order to be eligible for NEET 2020, candidates must qualify 12th Class examination with Chemistry, Biology, Physics and English subjects. For general category candidates, it is mandatory to score 50% marks in 12th grade, whereas SC/ST/OBC category candidates must score 40% marks to become eligible for NEET exam.From last year i.e., 2019,All India Pre Medical Test ( AIPMT), has also been merged within NEET- UG, to streamline things.
If no NEET exams are conducted in 2020, then there will not be a single doctor graduating in 2025-26, leading to a severe health crisis in India. We already have an acute shortage of doctors. According to World Bank estimates (2018), India has just 0.9 doctors per thousand people. Further, if NEET and JEE are cancelled or delayed any further in 2020, similar demands will be made in other streams too. Many misinformed campaigns demanding cancellation of other exams like CSE, NDA, CLAT, ICAI and other competitive exams have already started.In fact,on August 28, 2020,Consortium of National Law Universities, succumbing to unwanted pressure, decided to reschedule the CLAT 2020 examination to September 28. Earlier,the exam was scheduled to be held on Sept 7.
On August 17, 2020, the three-judge bench headed by justice Arun Mishra unanimously said, “We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question, relating to NEET UG-2020 as well as JEE (Main)
Amidst the ongoing brouhaha,the moot question therefore,is--Can a country like India afford a "zero year"? Can India keep delaying exams leading to a shortage of a new resource pool of engineers, doctors, management graduates, civil servants, chartered accountants and so on? The answer to these questions is an emphatic,"No"! The Modi government has been brave and is absolutely right in it's decision to go ahead with the JEE-NEET exams,without caving in.Also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi does,what he does.Modi is his own man and does what is right for the greater good of the country, popular opinion of coaching mafias,twitter activists masquerading as students and pseudo leftist intellectuals,be damned!
Again,a huge problem of a "zero year" is that,it delays academic sessions for a long time."For instance, during the Emergency of 1975-77, no academic sessions were held in Bihar and to date, the academic sessions are delayed in the state by one to three years in several universities, with the exception of Patna University and TM Bhagalpur University. Delayed sessions mean that if someone in a state university in Bihar completed the last semester in 2020, they would get their degrees only in 2022, or 2023, or 2024. Thus, a three-years’ BA programme gets completed in four to six years. This is happening in Bihar’s universities such as Magadh University, JP Narayan University, LN Mishra University and BN Mandal University",says the erudite,Gaurav Jha,a deputy advisor in the Education Ministry.
Some have argued that the state of Bihar had only 22 centers for JEE Main, conducted earlier. So what? Twenty-two large, spacious centers, for barely over a lakh students, with social distancing protocol and enough shifts, spread over 6 days, is good enough. In any case, NTA has now increased the number of centers manifold, covering many more districts and cities countrywide, due to the pandemic. Some others have argued that given the floods in Bihar,delaying exams,is the right thing to do.Well, floods in Bihar are an annual occurrence. Despite the floods last year,of the 1.61 lakh students who appeared for the JEE,from Bihar,over 11000 students cracked the exam,which is actually pretty good,given the very low qualifying rate in these exams.Again, Bihar has a high Covid recovery rate of 84%,so things on the ground are far better than what alarmists would have you believe.The State of Odisha has in a generous move,decided to provide free transportation and accommodation to aspirants who are either financially stressed or in areas affected by floods,so that they have no trouble in reaching the exam centers,on time.Other opposition ruled States should take a leaf out of Odisha's example and follow suit,rather than instigating students and demoralising them.
Congress protests at Shastri Bhawan on Aug 28 demanding postponement of NEET and JEE exams in New Delhi
Speaking of NEET,the upper age limit for sitting for NEET is 25 years for general category and 30 years, for reserved categories.The government must not therefore postpone the exams due to be held next month,as every year lost,can prove to be damaging,especially for those who are nearing the upper end of the age bracket.Around 15.97 lakh students have registered for NEET and over 8.58 lakh,for JEE (Main). Over 7 lakh students have already downloaded their admit cards for JEE and over 10 lakh for NEET. The NTA in a remarkable gesture, gave aspirants the opportunity to change their exam centers 5 times, in less than 5 months, so that they do not have to travel long distances to appear for the exams. Hence,spurious claims that NTA has been high handed,are a bunch of manufactured lies by those who wish to perennially keep delaying the exams.
Importantly, 95,000 NEET aspirants and 6.62 lakh JEE aspirants opted for a change in their examination center.The total number of JEE centers have been raised from 570 to 660 and, number of NEET centers have been increased from 2546,to 3843.The number of shifts too have been raised from 8,to 12.Elaborate arrangements to conduct the exams in a sanitized environment,with no power supply disruptions,proper crowd management and seamless movement of students and functionaries,are being made on a war footing,by the NTA.
Some profess that any type of standard operating procedure (SOP) put forth, will look good on paper only, but on the ground, such protocols are highly unrealistic. Well,the experience of last few months has shown that,barring stray incidents in isolated pockets,Indians have actually followed SOPs wonderfully well,by deciding to forego large weddings or religious gatherings.In a classic case of double standards, those arguing for postponing the examinations, have been the very set of people who have otherwise,been demanding the opening of public places, restaurants, gyms and places of worship.Is it not strange therefore,that these very people should now ask for further postponement and hold the authorities to ransom?
Thanks to the herculean efforts of the Modi government, India's recovery rate which was barely over 40% in April,is inching towards 80%,in less than 5 months.The Modi government has had an exemplary track record in lowering fatality rate,which is now less than 2%.Hence,why should naysayers or shallow "child activists",dictate to the government on what needs to be done,via vacuously,flimsy arguments?
Inside the exam centres, there are several complications,argue some--for instance, the use of same thumbprint scanner, crowded computer rooms, less distance between fixed seats,etc.But NTA has persistently assured that secure arrangements which adhere to social distancing norms have been made and there is nothing,that cannot be managed, with the added safety of face masks and gloves,on!True,some students will definitely be in containment zones and as per guidelines, strict lockdown measures have to be implemented in those areas. But why should any sane minded person assume that administrative authorities do not have the wherewithal or competence to host exams,despite the above limitations? Why should naysayers be allowed to second guess the organisational efficiency of the NTA?
If someone from JEE (Main) becomes Covid positive (after giving the exam) then how will that student give NDA, NEET, JEE ( Advanced), BITSAT, NEST and other entrance exams? He or she can't give his or her 100%,is another absolutely lame and shallow argument propounded by a few. Well,there is always another year,for those who miss out on giving these exams in 2020.But for these few,to expect everybody else to forego a full academic year,is devoid of any logic,whatsoever.
Thermal scanners can be very easy to escape. If people take antipyretics (E.g. calpol or paracetamol) just before the exam, their body temperature will decrease to normal levels and hence those students can very easily escape the thermal scanning,argue those in favour of postponement. Yes,these risks exist, but again, a few irresponsible students cannot be allowed to hold to ransom, over 2.5 million other deserving aspirants.Why should the large,silent majority of the 25 lakh odd students lose a valuable academic year,simply because of what a few maliciously rash and socially irresponsible aspirants may end up doing?
"We should remain students for a lifetime. You should be ready and yearn to learn from every moment of life. The basic elements of life need to be associated with learning. The learning process should be a part of your DNA.” - Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Is the government ready to take complete responsibility for the medical care of students? Well,the government is not the only stakeholder in this matter.The aspirants, their parents and guardians, exam center personnel,administrative officials of NTA,respective States and the Centre--all have a vital role to play.As conscientious citizens,we cannot abdicate our duties. We need to be supportive of the government's initiatives.Also,it is naive to mock NTA's credibility,as their track record has been commendable,so far.
The Joint Admission Board (JAB), decided that candidates who will clear the JEE (Advanced),will be eligible for admission to IITs,irrespective of their Class 12 marks. This decision has been taken due to the partial cancellation of Class 12 board exams by several boards,due to the pandemic.The Central Seat Allocation Board (CSAB) has removed minimum 75% marks in Class 12,as eligibility criteria,saying just passing Class 12,will suffice.In fact,the Modi government, keeping in mind the welfare of students, has been very accommodative,relaxing various criteria from time to time.
Only if a student clears JEE Advanced and obtains an All India Rank (AIR), she/he can take admission into the IITs. Those who clear JEE Mains only,are eligible for admission to NITs, IIITs, CFTIs, SFIs, and other State Engineering Colleges.Any further postponement will adversely impact lakhs of students,who do not get into IITs but at least make it to other institutes,by adding to the in-take burden,in these institutes.
Again,medical admissions are time bound and therefore, it makes no sense to further delay NEET. Leaving an entire batch of medical seats vacant will be unfair because next year, the in-take capacity of medical institutes will remain the same but the applicants will double in number, leading to utter chaos. Hence, postponement is simply not desirable or acceptable.
The fact that a ‘zero academic year’,by postponing these crucial exams,will only dilute the quality of education and have cascading effects,is further corroborated by statements made in the public domain,by leading academicians and Directors of several Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
"The pandemic has already disrupted the academic plans of many students and institutions and we don’t see the virus going away any time soon. We should not let this be a zero academic year as it might have consequences on the bright future of several students,” Ajit K Chaturvedi, Director, IIT Roorkee.He also said students and their parents need to have faith in the system.
“The decision to conduct these exams has been taken after considering every aspect of the current situation. The government has been ensuring that all necessary arrangements are made to safeguard the health and safety of the students. Delaying the exams would have a cascading effect so we should come together in understanding its importance and support the system in conducting it seamlessly,” he further,added.
According to Virendra Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur, “The exams have a global reputation for seeking excellence and are considered one of the toughest and prestigious examinations in the world. A quick alternative to these tests will certainly not be as gratifying as competing for this examination by all fair means“.
He said an alternative could be misused,as a precedent to dilute the entire admission process to the IIT system,which may prove to be harmful for the quality of undergraduate education at the IITs. “I urge the aspirants to take it up as a challenge and show their mettle and sincerity to the world,” added Tewari.
Sarit Kumar Das, Director, IIT Ropar, who is also a member of the Joint Admission Board (JAB) of IITs, said,the decision to conduct the exams in September this year,has not been taken overnight but after due consideration.
“We have been discussing and looking at the possibilities of conducting the exam for quite some time. We have looked at the infrastructure, the safety of the students, how we can maintain the distancing and other norms and make it as safe as possible not only by discussing (amongst) ourselves but also with health experts and most importantly the conductors of the examination,” said, Das.
Mr. Das also added that the public may not be aware that a lot of effort has gone into preparing to conduct the entrance exams amid the pandemic and after that experts have taken a technical decision to hold the exams in September with appropriate security measures, health norms and the same has been endorsed by the government,too.
“So the perception that the government has taken a decision overnight and we are just going to execute it, is absolutely improper,” he said, adding that nobody can predict how the situation is going to be after three months and having a “blank academic year” will be bad for both students and the institutes.
“Does anyone have an idea how the situation is going to be after three months or five months ? Even if the exam is held in September, we won’t be able to start classes before the middle of November at the earliest. That itself means almost a loss of a semester. Further delay will do nothing other than loss of a year and then next year you will have two first years batches. Are our institutions ready with the infrastructure to handle such a situation?” asked,Das.
What the small minority of protesting students conveniently forget is the fact that,these exams have already been deferred twice in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.JEE-Main was originally supposed to be held from April 7-11, but postponed to July 18-23.NEET-UG was originally scheduled for May 3, then pushed to July 26. They were postponed again and are now scheduled in September,2020.
“There is no doubt that we are in an unprecedented health crisis due to the global pandemic and the parents’ and students’ concern is understandable. But we must also think about the future of our students who have been preparing for this for many years,” said Sudhir K Jain, Director, IIT Gandhinagar, speaking out in favour of the silent majority that certainly wants to go ahead with the JEE-NEET exams. “The pandemic seems to be here to stay until we find an effective vaccine. Hence, it is important that we keep moving towards our significant individual goals, one step at a time,” Jain,added.
T.G. Sitharam, Director, IIT Guwahati, said, “JEE exam is held multiple times in a year and students who don’t appear this time can write after six months. Keeping in mind the effort put in by students who have prepared, it is critical that the exams are conducted as scheduled. Delay in holding the exams will lead to serious repercussions for the students as well as IIT's and most of the year 2020 will be washed out”.
While academicians, educationists and experts are fully supportive of having the exams in September 2020, India's hopelessly clueless opposition is back to playing the same old hackneyed games, to muster support for it's withering agendas. This time, the six State ministers from opposition ruled States who have filed a petition in the apex court asking for a review of the August 17 decision by the court are---Moloy Ghatak (West Bengal), Dr. Rameshwar Oraon (Jharkhand), Dr. Raghu Sharma (Rajasthan), Amarjeet Bhagat (Chhattisgarh), Balbir Singh Sidhu (Punjab) and Uday Ravindra Samant (Maharashtra).Despite the Supreme Court clearly stating that any further postponement will only jeopardize the careers of lakhs of aspirants,these six petitioners, refuse to get the larger message of the apex court,blinded by nothing but narrow,divisive politics.
The Modi government,if anything,has to be applauded for not buckling under pressure and adhering to its stated philosophy of standing in solidarity with the students,who are India's tomorrow. The government,on a war footing, has multiplied the number of exam centres,to allow candidates to maintain social distancing protocol,during these Covid stricken times. The demand to postpone the exams till ‘normalcy’ is restored is therefore not tenable,since the NTA has repeatedly assured on record that all precautionary measures would be taken,while conducting the exams. Relaxing the eligibility criteria from an aggregate of 75% marks,to just passing Class 12 exams,to qualify for IITs,subject of course to other conditions,is an unprecedented move by the Modi government,which has been hugely welcomed by most within the student community.It has taken the extra burden off the minds of scores of aspirants,who now only have to worry about performing well in the JEE,without stressing unduly about the marks scored in the Class 12 exams.Which other government has ever dared to take such a boldly compassionate move,for the sake of students and their rich aspirations?
There have been viciously motivated allegations that the Modi government does not pay heed to the needs of students.This is absolutely false.If anything,Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken humongous efforts to personally reach out to students repeatedly,via events like,Mann ki Baat, Smart India Hackathon and Pariksha pe Charcha,because education is a subject that is close to Modi's core,work ethos .In the final analysis,those who are ill prepared or reluctant to sit for the exams in September this year,can do so next year.They are under no compulsion to take the exams this year. Equally,those who are well prepared and want to sit for the exams in September,should be free to do so,as they have a choice too. And a large majority of the 25 lakh aspirants,certainly fall in the second category,eagerly waiting to take a shot at the JEE-NEET,next month,as they realize,the present cannot be frittered away.They also know that a vibrant and empowered future awaits them--one,that is being inked by Prime Minister Modi,for a truly inclusive Bharat.
(The author is an Economist, Chief Spokesperson for BJP Mumbai and Bestselling Author of "Truth & Dare--The Modi Dynamic")