Even as the nation grapples with a raging pandemic, the student community seems to have been caught in the unseemly sparring between Centre and State. Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal (all non-BJP states) had called off university examinations including those for the final year as online examinations did not seem feasible. The University Grants Commission (UGC), however, dropped a bombshell, announcing them as mandatory for final year when a month before, it had expressed strong reservations about holding the exams.
The plight and angst of the students can be understood. Even their parents, teachers and non-teaching staff are left perplexed with this uncertainty. Conducting exams for students hailing from the affected states would be patently unfair. Government’s flip flop has put the students under stress and has left them restive.
Students and their career taken for granted?
Following revised UGC guidelines, the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) for exams. It outlines how examinations can be conducted ensuring social distancing between students, sanitization, distribution of thermal scanners, sanitizers, gloves and face masks and their proper disposal by the colleges/centres.
Even assuming that the situation improves by end September, how will the government ensure proper distance in between seats when there is inadequate space at most examination centers? There are a large number of outstation students who depend on public transport like local and express trains, buses to reach their respective examination centres. This poses a big health risk. If any student gets infected, will the government take responsibility and provide for their healthcare when the rising number of corona patients are struggling to get a hospital bed?
In case offline mode of examinations does not make headway and the UGC opts for online examinations, wouldn’t it be unfair on students who are hamstrung for want of resources like laptops, smart phones and even internet facilities? Have the authorities thought of these crucial factors?
We live in a country where education is unaffordable for many and therefore technology still a delusion. There is a wide disparity between the have and have-nots, which has only increased during the pandemic. In times, where the poor are already battling with job loss, poverty, and a host of other problems, should the government make it more difficult for the students and their families?
If the government wants to conduct online examination anyway, why are the final year students being made to wait until September? Even the top universities of the world have considered it wise to skip the examinations, and it would be good for UGC and HRD Ministry to take a leaf out of their book. The Centre should prioritise the health and lives of students instead of making examinations a prestige issue with the state governments. Students should not become pawns in the ego battles between the Centre and state.
Health Vs Education
It cannot be overemphasised that health and education need to be given equal priority. Maharashtra State Education Minister, Uday Samant had written to Indian HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal stating that conducting exams in Maharashtra did not seem possible given the serious conditions in the State. It is baffling that the UGC felt compelled to issue a diktat that is fraught with logistical issues. It needs to be noted that the UGC guidelines are advisory in nature and not mandatory. Then how come these guidelines are enforced on the states which had cancelled the examinations?
Students had already started preparing for their future endeavours like applying for internships or jobs to support their families who are going through financial instability due to the lockdown. Some of them even started with online classes for further studies. The news of the revised guidelines by the UGC has put them in a quandary and has needlessly compounded their burden. The students are losing faith, as it were, in the education system. This will be another nail in that coffin.