Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” spoke to Amandeep Shukla about the government’s decision to hold the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE-Main) next month, the view by students and parents concerned about the pandemic that these exams be postponed, why the government is not considered alternative methods, and the assertion by Opposition parties that they will move the Supreme Court to have the exams delayed or deferred. Edited Excerpts:
There was major meeting of opposition chief ministers and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday. The decision to hold the NEET and JEE exams has clearly become a major political issue.
It pains to see that education is becoming politicised. I request my colleagues across the political spectrum to abide by the orders of the honourable Supreme Court. Leaving the politics aside, I would like to share that, a total of 7.41 lakh candidates out of 8.58 lakh appearing for JEE have downloaded admit cards. Only 332 candidates have requested for change of their centre cities, which are being considered positively. In reference to NEET, a total of 6.84 lakh candidates (out of a total of 15.97 lakh) have downloaded the admit cards in the first five hours.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has said that if you don’t understand students’ problems, and that they will approach the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, while dismissing the writ petition regarding the postponement of these examinations, also observed, inter alia, the following: “Ultimately life has to go on, and the career of the students cannot be put on peril for long and a full academic year cannot be wasted”. I would like to state that Parliament will start functioning, offices are functioning. In my opinion we have to ensure that there is no zero academic year in the lives of students.
Some students say that the government isn’t being considerate, and it isn’t responding to an unprecedented situation and the plight of students.
I feel that this government is very empathetic and considerate to the cause of the students. Academic career is very important, and a zero academic year will cause tremendous loss to the students.
Every day, I get innumerable mails from the silent majority . The parents and students say that they are under stress and preparing for exams for the last two to three years and that they don’t want a zero academic year. They have been seriously preparing for the exams since January and the past two years. My request to all parents and students is to have faith in us about the safety of the examination centres.
Is it not possible to move the exams ahead by another 30 or 60 days? Are you considering any such move?There is no certainty about when the pandemic will. The solution therefore is to move on with precautions.
Why is there no other alternative being considered — online entrance examinations, or normalising of marks from different board exams to facilitate direct selection?
We need to have a transparent system of selection of students into the higher education system. The most transparent system is an objective test, and this has evolved over the years. If we tinker with the system and selection process, it is going to cause irreparable damage to the careers of the students. I have always reiterated that safety first and then exams. But conducting these exams any time later might lead to a situation where the entire year could be lost, therefore conducting these exams in now with due precautions is a middle path.
What about students who don’t get centres of their choice — how will they travel to the exam centre with transport and travel restrictions in various places?
In the best interest of students, NTA has ensured that more than 99% candidates get their first choice of centre and cities in of these examinations. The number of centres have been increased from 570 to 660 (in case of JEE Main) and 2,546 to 3,843 (in case of NEET). In case of JEE Main, the number of shifts has been increased from the earlier 8 to 12, and the number of candidates per shift has been reduced from earlier 1.32 lakh to 85,000.
Can you give details of how these safety measures were arrived at?
NTA has defined a SOP based on recommendations of a high-level committee of medical experts, along with in adherence to various Government directives and Guidelines issues from time to time by the government.