The raging COVID-19 pandemic has unsettled life to such an extent that public education and examination schedules too have been hit. As educational institutions remain shut in a bid to stifle the spread of the coronavirus, authorities resort to either cancelling or postponing examinations for academic and professional courses.
Students meanwhile are at their wit's end owing to the fluid situation even as the Judiciary and the Government work out reasonable solutions.
Soon after the top educational boards recently cancelled pending final examinations of Class 10 and 12, the Union Human Resource Development Ministry just announced the much-anticipated decision on holding the all-important NEET-UG and JEE entrance examinations for medical and engineering courses sometime in September, a few months later than their normal schedule, considering the unabated threat of the pandemic. In this situation what is in store for the students?
The delay in holding the entrance examinations too will have its bearing on the academic calendar for this year even as educational institutions will remain shut at least until July 31 as announced by the government.
According to sources, the seat allotment process, which is popularly known as counselling, based on the results of the two crucial professional entrance tests could begin in October and the classes for freshers might start only by November-end or in the first week of December.
It is still unclear how the delayed entrance tests will affect the new academic calendar. The rescheduling of the entrance examinations may lead to further delay in the commencement of the 2020-21 academic year, potentially eliminating almost an entire semester for the students. Aspirants from the repeating batches might miss out on a full academic year and could face a setback for their graduation plans too.
"I wish the authorities concerned would not postpone or cancel the entrance exams again. Many of my friends are already thinking of shifting focus from NEET and intend to join other courses. If the entrance exams get further delayed, we might not be able to join for any other course this academic year," said Abhimanyu Rajashekar, a class 12 student of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Sultan Bathery, Wayanad.
The medical entrance exam, National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), was earlier scheduled for July 26, while the Joint Entrance Exam -- JEE (Mains) -- for admission to engineering colleges across the country was to take place from July 18 to 23. The JEE-Advance entrance taken by those who qualify in the JEE-Mains was originally scheduled for August 23.
"I am a repeat candidate for the NEET-UG. I already took a year break to prepare for the medical entrance exam. Students are really stressed. Students like me and several others who are repeating the medical entrance exam are under immense stress. If the exams get postponed again, students like us may lose one more precious year,” said Anaina Sara Joseph, a medical entrance aspirant, from Thrissur.
“Since the entrance exams for admissions to the AIIMS (All-India Institute Of Medical Sciences) and JIPMER (Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research) stand cancelled, now everyone will be concentrating on NEET this year. This uncertainty about what will happen is the biggest worry. But I guess there is no other way to go," she added.
Many medical aspirants from Kerala also believe that the medical examinations should be conducted state-wise like the engineering examinations, in light of the COVID-19 situation in severely affected states.
Stephen Joseph, director of the Brilliant Study Centre in Pala, a popular entrance coaching centre in Kerala, echoes the agony of students. “Students are definitely panicking. But there is nothing else to be done in times of a pandemic. Health and security in life are much more important than an entrance examination. Students who have already lost one or two academic years for the preparation of entrance exams are more stressed than others. But, I think we should consider this extended time as bonus time to study and revise more,” he noted.
He also reiterated that the parents of such students are much more worried and might cast pressure on their children. He also said that many underperform in competitive exams not due to lack of knowledge, but due to pressure. Once the colleges reopen, portions could be rushed through to cope up with the lag, thus indirectly putting the students in trouble, he added.
“When I heard about the postponement of the exams I realised we will get more time to prepare. But this uncertainty certainly bothers all of us. I am worried not only about NEET or JEE, but also about other entrances like KEAM, the qualifier for engineering and allied courses in Kerala. COVID cases are fast spreading at my native place, Malappuram. I wonder if this pandemic is ever going to end anytime soon. Also, what about the students from the COVID containment zones? How will they write exams if they are still within hotspots during exam time? But I guess coping with the situation is the only way to go,” said Suvetha S, an aspiring engineer.
The JEE-Main is now scheduled to be conducted between September 1 and 6, whereas the NEET will be held on September 13. JEE (Advanced) is slated for September 27.