Friday, 6th March, 2020: Covid-19 had already reached India at this point, but most of the country seemed unbothered. In Pune, the city in which I study and live, the first case wouldn’t show up until three days later, on 9th March. I remember hanging out with my friends in the college canteen that day, making plans for what we would do once we finished our finals in April.
The closer we got to graduating the more time we spent in college after classes, reminiscing and complaining about the amount of work we had to get done in a few short months. Nobody was upset though, we would see each other the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.
On 13th March, the college announced that we would be shutting down indefinitely. That’s when it started to sink in. The first couple of weeks post lockdown; the teachers were pretty confident that we would reopen soon so we’d have a few online classes to finish up the syllabus, but otherwise, everyone was just glad they got a break.
When the cases started to rise, and the country went into complete lockdown for the second time, we knew it wasn’t good. It was more than just a vacation; there were lives at stake. Considering the growing number of cases in Maharashtra coupled with the rising number of deaths, the Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackrey, made an announcement on 30th May choosing to cancel the exams for all final years and providing the additional option of retaking the exam, for those who weren’t happy with the results, later in the year depending on the situation.
That was the day we got to breathe a deep sigh of relief. We were finally free to apply to colleges and study for our entrances exams without being held in limbo. That is, until the announcement made by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 6th July making examinations for final year students compulsory. Most colleges had already put out announcements in compliance with the state government’s original statement. We barely got a week’s rest before we were thrown back into a stressful heap of confusion.
Corona virus has been holding the entire world hostage and the Indian university system, our future. The lack of consensus between the states and UGC has confused and stressed final year students.
Conducting offline exams is not just impractical but downright condemnable, especially with India being a COVID-19 hotspot. In addition to this, asking students, who have already flown back to their home towns during the lockdown, to fly back just to attend the examinations is to play with fire.
Coming from a home with an ageing grandmother and members with heart issues who are at a higher risk of getting the infection, being forced to give exams in a public space is not only putting my life at risk but my entire family’s.
The suggestion of conducting online exams is impractical and not well thought through, as research suggests that only a little more than 20% of Indians have access to the internet. The uncertainty has made things worse, especially for young women from rural lower-class families.
4 in 5 girls in India have never used the internet and implying that online exams are a feasible solution to conducting exams puts the future of these girls at risk. A lot of these women tend to be the first from their families ever to attend college.
In addition to caring for their families during this trying time, the stress of final exams and not having access to the requisite technology can all contribute to them scoring very little or failing their finals which could end all chances of them going for further studies.
Online classes and exams may be a possibility in India in the distant future but, with neither the infrastructure nor the training, these exams can’t be fair or accessible for people from the lower economic strata at this point.
The uncertainty, delays, confusion and stress have taken a toll on most students. What seems like an obvious decision to us has been dragged on for so long that, at this point, it’s hard to believe that we would ever graduate. But even when it’s challenging to hold on to hope, it is essential to remember to breathe. Most of us are lucky enough to have family and friends to lean on for strength. And to those of you who are fortunate enough to have access to the internet and a voice that can be heard, be sure to use it.