The ongoing fierce controversy about holding of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for engineering and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medicine admissions under the pandemic gives us an opportunity to seriously examine the utility or to be more exact the futility of holding entrance examinations at the national level.
Six states, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan have approached the Supreme Court against its 17 August order allowing the central government to hold the tests in September. The Supreme Court had on 17 August dismissed a petition demanding postponement of the tests saying that a crucial year of students cannot be wasted and life has to go on. It did not explain how one year will be wasted if the tests were not held. Admissions were done even before national testing was introduced on the basis of marks obtained in the Central and State Board examinations. Considering the extraordinary situation if the country had reverted to the old practice, the heavens would not have fallen.
We should also consider the fact that education is more of a state subject than central and the Supreme Court will have to now give serious thought to the review petition filed by the states against its own order. The court will also have to take into consideration the opinion of the other states that have not approached it but have publically opposed holding of the entrance examinations. It is quite adept at taking suo motu action.
In a rather emotional video message to the students, Sonia Gandhi, the interim Congress President said “You are our future. We depend on you to build better India. Therefore, if any decision has to be taken regarding your future, it is important that it is being taken with your concurrence. I hope the government listens to you, listens to your voices and act upon your wishes.”
NEET has been a very contentious issue in many states specially Tamil Nadu. They have been opposing the National level testing because it favored students who have taken examinations under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) as against the students who take examinations under the State Boards. The poor mostly take the State Board examinations.
The Tamil Nadu Assembly passed a bill in 2017 to scrap NEET. The President of India’s approval is still awaited. And both the state government and the Madras High Court have found that national level testing is discriminatory against poor students .
And the Tamil Nadu Health Minister C. Vijayabasker on 26 August wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan seeking cancellation of NEET on the ground that conducting the examination amid the pandemic “would put the lives of the students attending it at great risk of infection.’’ He demanded the government allow admissions to medical courses on the basis of marks in class XII Board examinations. He suggested that central government promulgate an ordinance in this regard.
The Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has also written to the Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank to postpone the JEE (main) and NEET examinations scheduled for September. Under the prevailing pandemic situation in the country, it would be highly unsafe and perilous for the students to visit the test centres physically, Patnaik pointed out.
Nearly 16 lakh students have registered for the NEET, at present a prerequisite for admission to undergraduate medical and dental courses. It is a written examination. Some 8.5 lakh students have registered for JEE (Main). It is an online examination for admission to National Institutes of Technology as well as other central, state and private universities. The top rankers in this will be eligible to appear for JEE Advanced for admission to Indian Institutes of Technology.
Global youth icon and climate activist Greta Thunberg also opposed holding of the examinations. “It is deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the COVID -19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #Postpone JEE_NEETinCOVID,” she tweeted on 25 August.
Considering the prevailing situation in the country and overwhelming opposition from state governments and political leaders across the country, one wonders how the Home Ministry gave its clearance to hold examination when lock down conditions exist all across the country. For with the Disaster Management Act 2005 in force the Home Ministry’s clearance is required to hold the examinations.
(Published on 31st August 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 36)