Picture used for representational purpose only
The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving a trail of disruption in the education space. Many exams have been postponed and many more cancelled. There is a growing demand for postponement of even the JEE Main and NEET exams for engineering and medicine, and rightfully so.
With many states still in lockdown mode, transport seriously impacted and most importantly, the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the demand for postponement is fair and justified. When students' lives are at stake, there isn't much left to the debate on the postponement of exams.
Students have already spent months in “examination mode”. It is perhaps time to spare most of them this constantly-repeating cycle of preparation and anxiety. One way to achieve this would be accepting a reset to an older, decentralised system of allowing states to manage admissions to their own institutions. The Joint Entrance Examination-Main, or JEE Main, regulates admission to just a fraction of the total number of engineering seats in the country's premier engineering colleges. Its schedule should not hold up admission to the remaining seats that total to over 13 lakh.
Today at 4 PM, a meeting is being held with representatives from the exam-conducting National Testing Agency (NTA), the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and, possibly, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) too, to decide on postponement of these exams.
If they were looking at some guidance from a case being heard in the Supreme Court with respect to the chartered accountancy exams, they would be disappointed as the hearing has been adjourned to July 10. However, the submissions made in the Supreme Court reveal that of the 3.46 lakh students who were taking the CA exam, 52,000 opted to not appear for the July examination while 2.89 lakh students opted to take the examination. But as a country, we should be bothered about the 52,000 students and give them a fair option too.
To understand the options before the committee, we need to understand the impact different scenarios will have. Here is an analysis of the data and the possible solutions:
1. The January 2020 JEE Main exam saw 9.21 lakh students registering and 8.69 lakh students appearing for the exam. They all have a score and a percentile with them. Going by past trends, it is estimated that about 1.2 million students would have appeared for the July 2020 exam, if things were normal.
2. Till 2016, even JEE was using a normalized score for factoring in the Class 12 score to determine the JEE Mains rank. This was being done so that students remain and study in school rather than give up schooling to join coaching institutions. This means that it is possible for states to create an inter se merit list, if they want to.
3. Education being a subject under the concurrent list, most states conducted the admission process into their technical institutions through a common counselling process. However, 13 states ‘opted' to use the JEE Main rank to arrive at their own inter se merit list. While some states had or have their own exams, many states used the Class 12 marks for creating a merit list. These admissions were in both public and private institutions.
4. JEE main caters to the National Institutes of Technology, or NITs (21,352 seats), Indian Institutes of Information Technology, or IIITs (4,808 seats), and Government Funded Technical Institutions, or GFTIs (5,635 seats). These, taken together, total 31,795 seats in all. JEE Advanced is for admission to IITs only with an approved intake of 15,398 seats. The JEE exam is held to determine admission into 31,795 seats, while JEE Advanced is held to fill 15,398 seats in IITs.
5. The All India Council for Technical Education, or AICTE, data of 2018-19 puts the total sanctioned intake of AICTE-approved institutions at 13,38,820 in 3,114 institutions. However, these numbers don't include most of the 362 State Private Universities and all Institutions of National Importance including even IITs and NITs. If you add these numbers, the total seats will be around 1.8 million seats.
6. The best solution for India would be to delink the JEE ranks with admission to the other over 3,600 colleges and universities which offer engineering courses. This may be the right time for states to be empowered to start a common counselling and admission process based on the Class 12 marks for filling in seats within the state.
7. The argument for ‘postponement' of the exam presupposes that they can be held soon enough in the ‘immediate' future. However, there is absolutely no certainty of how the pandemic will progress and whether the exams can be held at all.
8. If we can remove this impediment and let states and institutions start the admission process based on the Class 12 score or even the January 2020 JEE score for all institutions other than IITs, NITs, IIITs etc., we will be ensuring that the other 1.75 million seats are open for admission and students can start process.
9. If this is done, JEE can be postponed indefinitely with no announcement on the date. Every postponement after a date is announced adds to the uncertainty for students and they must be spared that anxiety. They cannot be kept in a protracted “examination mode”. As and when the situation is suitable the exam can be conducted.
10. Students who get a seat in any of the IITs, NITs and IIITs must be allowed to withdraw from their current institution with a full fees refund. This will ensure that students are not at a loss while the education system can start the process. This must be an advisory for all institutions who start the admission process.
What we are staring at is a semester-loss for all students as we prioritize the 45,000 students who are likely to get into the premier institutions. This can be avoided where students are not forced to take the exam, nor suffer financial loss in the future. This will also ensure that students get back to studying than sitting idle and waiting for plans to unravel. And this must also be done so that we remove the uncertainty that is causing extreme anxiety and trauma amongst students causing mental health issues.
The author is the founder and CEO of Careers360.