Since the COVID-19 has been declared as Pandemic by World Health Organisation (WHO), there is a sense of fear and panic all around the globe. Government of India imposed lockdown and taking all the possible precautionary steps to curb the spread of the virus which includes shutting down all educational institutes, vacating hostels, postponing entrance examinations, convocation ceremonies, and more.
Student Safety while conducting exams
Entrance exams such as JEE and NEET were postponed multiple times in 2020 to avoid spread of virus in student community but now many voices are coming in support to conduct exams with view of “Life must go on”. Amid the increasing spread of virus in the country post lockdown, close to 16 lakhs students are appearing for NEET - UG and 8.58 lakhs students are appearing for JEE Mains exam. Ensuring safety by taking social distancing with appropriate hygiene measures of total 27 lakhs students plus approximately 1 lakh teacher supervisors across states is a big challenge. How many exam centers are well prepared for such health and safety measures is a question.
How postponing / cancelling entrance exams will affect students?
Aspirants prepare for entrance exams like JEE and NEET at least for a year in order to secure good ranking for admission in good institutions. These students work rigorously to achieve their goal. Postponing or Cancellation of entrance exams will affect these students as their preparation for whole year will go into vain. Cancellation of such entrance exams will have devastating effect on merit entering into institutions hence it should be the last option to be considered.
Recently IIT Delhi Director Mr. V Ramgopal Rao said, “Any further delay in conducting entrance exams JEE and NEET will have ‘serious repercussions’ not only on the academic calendar but also on the career of bright students”. Hence further delay in conducting medical and engineering entrance exams will lead to a 'zero academic year. In this scenario it is inevitable to explore options available with the government instead of postponing the entrance exams further.
Options for conducting entrance exams without postponing them further:
1. Home-based Online Proctored Exam:
Government can leverage online proctoring services to enable students to take exams from home. Such form of online exams relies on the internet and lets students take the exam at their own location. While online assessments looks like viable option to be explored, there is concern that they could increase inequalities due to lack of Internet access and laptop / desktop computers with all students, in addition to their cost.
2. Conducting Exams in staggered manner
Government can consider conducting examinations with more number of exam centers and in higher number of shifts with lesser number of students in each shift with proper crowd control mechanisms to avoid risk of spread of disease.
3. Ensuring safety at Exam centers
It should be mandated that exams to be conducted in sanitized environment with all precautionary measures to be strictly followed at exam centers, including physical distancing protocols, providing hand sanitizers and compulsory wearing of masks.
4. Open book examination
OBE will require students to first download the question paper from the exam portal, write the answers on plain paper, and finally scan and upload them on the portal, all within a stipulated time limit.
Summing it up, internet connectivity conditions will inevitably widen the gap between students with different economic backgrounds and a sudden change in the style of questions (as is required by the “open book” format) without enough time allowed to cope with changed pattern, it will create anxiety in students.
Higher education entrance exams are the highest-stake exams that determine access to higher education premium institutes in India where fairness is the key. Hence, along with health and safety, it is important to ensuring equity and equal opportunity for all students while conducting entrance exams.