Extraordinary times also call for extraordinary measures
The holy grail of the life of an Indian student — and the gateway to prestige, and in many cases, continued prosperity, for their family — is less than a week away.
A mulish government has decided to go by the decision of a blinkered court and hold the JEE (Main) and NEET entrances in the first weeks of September amid a raging pandemic whose daily case count topped 75,000 on Thursday in the face of fierce outrage from a section of the prospective examinees.
With the JEE (Main) starting on Sep 1 and the NEET set to be held on Sep 13, it may already be too late to reschedule these tests unless they are dropped altogether. The government did not make any provisions to have the National Testing Agency conduct an online exam.
Plus, education mandarins have come out backing the move to go through with them and over 17 lakh have downloaded admit cards. At this stage, any uncertainty entails putting students through fresh psychological stress, and the education minister has cried foul.
To him, this newspaper would like to ask if it is fair play to conduct the exams at a time when a significant proportion of the candidates, especially in flood-ravaged Bihar, UP, Assam and West Bengal, will be unable to find transport to reach the venue or be forced to travel jam-packed with no physical distancing and risk infection of the virus and its spread? These examinees, being young, will be accompanied by parents.
The virus is an “anti-Robinhood”, says Raghuram Rajan, former RBI governor, and in the crisis that it has sparked, it is the poor who are hit the hardest. So also it is with these exams. By going ahead with them, the government will have created a new crisis in which the poor will be hit the hardest and the most.
It can, therefore, no longer hold the high moral ground that it supports an examination system that assures a level playing field in which merit is the sole criterion for success. And for this, it must be urgently held accountable.
A perhaps equally urgent question would be to ask if the conduct of the exams would not result in the coronavirus epidemic finally spiralling completely out of control.
To the adamant parents who insist their children take the exams and who won’t even let them take part in symbolic protests inside their homes, too, the newspaper would like to highlight that even climate warrior and role model Greta Thunberg, who has incidentally called the holding of these exams “unfair”, has taken a gap year herself.
It would advise parents in this regard to take a leaf out of the West, which encourages this practice as a means of self-determination, and rid themselves of their obsession over “year loss”, more so because these are extraordinary times that call for introspection on their parts.
Extraordinary times also call for extraordinary measures. Hence the collective review petition of the Supreme Court order planned by the Opposition and state CMs.
Are some hypothetical family goals regarding the careers of the next generation more important than the ideal of equal opportunity to all and the health and safety of 1.37 billion?
Are they more important than the student’s own health and life? These are a few questions the government must reckon with at some point, and that point will arrive sooner rather than later.