Throughout our lives, we have been told that it’s the skills we acquire that are crucial to build our career. However, the people in charge only seem to remind us of the contrary. At a time when much of the world is at a standstill, desperately anticipating the next thing that is to come during the lockdown, conducting an exam seems to have become a priority in the name of our careers.
It seems that by placing so much weightage on our ‘final exams’ in the midst of such a crisis, all other skills and achievements we may have acquired during our college years only seems to diminish in their value. Despite the overwhelming evidence that does not favour the conduction of an exam, authorities passed the decision to conduct JEE, NEET and final year university exams. This is insensitive at best, and perverse at worst.
According to The New York Times, India has the fastest-growing number of COVID-19 cases in the world, reporting 75,000 new cases per day as of August 28, 2020. Due to desperate efforts to stimulate an ailing economy, the relaxation of the lockdown has only been inching the country towards the number one spot. The virus, which was mostly contained in the urban areas of the country, has now seeped into every corner of the country due to interstate travel. At a time when survival is of paramount concern to people, conducting exams only makes students lambs to a slaughter.
One may argue that the authorities have set social distancing norms and various safety nets to ensure the physical well-being of the students. However, the images of crowds of students appearing for COMEDK exams in the state of Karnataka show that guidelines are only castles built in the air. One also needs to consider the students who may have registered for either of the three exams and are infected by the virus.
The US stands as a testament to this. It was found that around 95,000 children were infected a week prior to the start of the new semester. This puts these students at a significant disadvantage and may actually end up jeopardising their careers, the very same careers that the authorities are claiming to save.
Adding to this hurdle, travelling is a nightmare that one can only begin to comprehend. With much of the railways not functioning, reaching the exam centre in itself is going to be a Herculean task. Further, the floods in Bihar and Assam have affected more than 55 lakh people, as reported by the Times of India. For most of the people affected by the natural calamity, rebuilding and normalcy are only second nature to them. Expecting the affected students to appear for the exams is draconian at the least.
Perhaps, the ironically unnoticed elephant in the room is international students. India boasts its international students who come from far and wide in order to attain competitive education standards provided by the country. While some managed to make it home during the pandemic, many are still in the country due to various reasons. Expecting the ones who are home to come back for exams, given the current situation on travel restrictions, is not possible.
Further, the ones who still left behind in the country are faring the current situation with so many difficulties that we can only begin to imagine. The examination will only add to their stress and adversely affect their well-being. Accommodation too is an issue for international as well as Indian students. Many owners had asked students to vacate during the pandemic, and now after the announcement of the exams, convincing sceptical owners to provide a place to live is no easy task.
All these problems, of course, as one may argue, can be solved if the exams are held online. However, the picture of the digital divide in the country only resembles an abyss that runs deep. According to the Scroll, only 11% of Indian households have a computer, which includes desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, palmtops or tablets. Further, according to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report based on the National Sample Survey (2017-2018), less than 15% of rural households and almost 42%of the urban households have access to internet connectivity. If exams or studies are conducted online, this will only increase inequality among the students.
Perhaps, the most important issue that has been lost in the pages is that of mental health. With increasing social restrictions and financial burden, humans have only felt a sense of estrangement during the pandemic. Further, with decreasing purchasing power and increasing unemployment, the mental health of people has been adversely affected.
A study was conducted to explore the impact of COVID-19 on student education and well-being. Approximately 25% of its sample reported experiencing anxiety symptoms, which were positively correlated with increased concerns about academic delays, economic effects of the pandemic and impact on daily life.
Furthermore, among the many student surveys administered worldwide, one survey by Young Minds reported that 83% of young respondents agreed that the pandemic has worsened pre-existing mental health conditions mainly due to closure of schools, loss of routine and restricted social connections.
In conclusion, one can only think of the novel The Hunger Games, wherein the fictional country of Panem, the Capitol (the oppressor) forces the districts in the nation (the oppressed) to run a lottery, where a boy and girl (known as the tributes) are picked from each of the 12 districts. The unlucky pair of 12 are put into an arena by the Capitol where they are forced to kill each other until the lone victor remains. The tributes, in this case, are the students and the Capitol is to be left to one’s imagination.