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How the 2020 JEE Main and NEET exams are testing students long before they enter the exam hall

The students face a dilemma: if they skip the entrance exams, they lose an academic year; if they take the tests, they expose themselves to the risk of contracting Covid-19. These choices have been weighing on their minds as they study for the exams

August 27, 2020 / 06:06 PM IST

Arun Kumar* hasn’t been able to sleep since the JEE Main 2020 was postponed from its original date in May because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Patna boy’s parents had spent almost Rs 1 lakh on his coaching, which went online from February, and cannot spend any more.

Kumar just wants the Joint Entrance Exam over and done with.

“It is easy to say to keep postponing it. But several families like mine don’t have the financial comfort to waste an entire year. I understand that there is a pandemic but it is a call we need to take,” he said.

Kumar added that if there was a set deadline by which Covid-19 would end, it would make sense to postpone the exam. But with no clarity on when India will overcome the disease, he said the logical solution would be to conduct the exams.

While the clamour for postponement of the JEE Main 2020 (engineering courses) and NEET (medical UG courses) 2020 has been rising, students have mixed emotions on the matter. Fear of the virus remains, but the students also want the uncertainty to end.

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The JEE Main 2020 is scheduled for September 1-6 while NEET 2020 is scheduled to be held on September 13.

In 2020, a total of 858,000 candidates have registered for the JEE Main and 1.59 million candidates have registered for NEET (UG). Of these, 741,000 candidates have downloaded the JEE admit cards. As for NEET, a total of 684,000 candidates have downloaded the admit cards.

What are the issues?

There are fears a candidate will contract the virus if she or he sits at an examination centre with others and face exposure to multiple people.

Nupur Tiwari*, from Harraiya in Uttar Pradesh, has opted for Lucknow as her examination centre for NEET 2020. The challenge she faces is getting to the exam centre. “I got my choice of centre but travel is going to be a problem. The lockdown has not yet been fully lifted here and buses aren’t reliable. Hiring a vehicle is the only option and that is turning out to be expensive,” she said.

Also Read: Postponing exams further will harm students, says education minister

Nupur said that the three-hour trip, which would have cost Rs 300-400 by bus, now costs Rs 5,000 because private vehicle owners are taking advantage of the situation and overcharging customers. Her family does not want to send her alone and her father will be accompanying her for the trip. She feels postponing the exams till the lockdown is completely lifted would have been better.

The National Testing Agency (NTA) has said that the State and District administrations will be responsible for smooth movement of candidates from their homes to the examination centres. However, since full-fledged transport has not yet resumed, candidates are worried about the travel and if they will be stopped.

Tanya Haldar*, whose house is part of a containment zone in Kolkata, is worried about whether there will be hiccups with respect to travel since movement is restricted. She is appearing for NEET 2020 and is yet to download her admit card.

“We faced issues multiple times, even in the recent past, when we had to go out to get medicines and for doctor visits. Two of my relatives have tested positive and there is a lot of anxiety at home about letting me go. What was the urgency to hold the exam now?” rues Haldar.

Hurdles on the road

The NTA had said that the admit card can be used as a pass for travel. However, in States such as Tamil Nadu, where the e-pass system has been mandated, candidates are worried about harassment on the day of the exam by local authorities.

GD Surya*, from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, who is appearing for the JEE Main 2020 examination, told Moneycontrol that he expects a lot of commotion on exam days. But Surya also knows that if the exams are postponed, the year will be wasted.

“I travelled from my place of education, Bengaluru, to my home-town, Tirunelveli, and the e-pass system was such a nightmare. The Tamil Nadu government has not yet done away with this requirement. NTA can say admit cards are valid, but who will explain it to the local police,” he wondered.

The bigger worry for Surya and his family is that he suffers from asthma and his immunity level is low. His father, Gyanavel Duraisamy, told Moneycontrol over a phone call that the exams are a disaster waiting to happen.

“What will happen if, god forbid, my son catches the infection at the exam centre? Who will take responsibility? Will the State take legal liability and pay for the medical expenses then,” he asked.

A test before the test

There are many, like Nivedita Thomas*, who are attempting both NEET and the JEE Main in 2020. While Nivedita says losing an entire year is not an option, she wants States to mandate students to get a Covid-19 negative test certificate to the examination centre.

“Why should someone suffer because there is an asymptomatic Covid-19 carrier in the examination hall? The numbers are huge and if the government cannot postpone JEE/NEET further, then why not mandate tests,” she says.

The NTA has said that there will be staggered entry and exit for students into the exam centre. This will mean that students will be equally divided and there will be a queue manager who will allow a group of students in every 30 minutes.

Further, the JEE Main 2020 exam, which is a computer-based test, will have an odd-even system, where students will only sit on even-numbered computers in one session and odd numbered ones in the next.

What are the alternatives?

Students have been questioning the insistence of going to a physical centre and not conducting the examination online.

However, government sources told Moneycontrol that the Education Ministry is not in favour of changing the exam system since it will reduce the rigour.

Elaborating, a government official said: “We cannot change the examination pattern at the last minute. Taking the examination online and allowing students to appear for the tests from home will only open a can of worms. Technology is available but there are loopholes. Won’t the sanctity of JEE and NEET be tarnished by home exams?”

Moneycontrol had reported earlier on how educational institutes are taking the help of online proctoring technologies that use artificial intelligence to monitor students during online tests. However, both the government and individual engineering/medical institutes are not in favour of this technique for entrance examinations.

With the first JEE Main 2020 exams less than a week away and NEET 2020 less than 20 days away, it is highly unlikely that the Education Ministry will change its stance now. But students are still hopeful.

*Names changed to protect identity
M Saraswathy
first published: Aug 27, 2020 06:06 pm

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