COVID-19 has had a seriously unsettling effect on all sections of people, not least on students who find themselves in an unprecedented situation caused by closure of schools and colleges, and a rather hasty, unprepared thrust on digital modes of learning.
Figures released by UNESCO, as they assess the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on education, say that in India alone, some 32 crore learners have been impacted in some way or the other by the closure of educational institutes, nearly 17 crore of them in secondary school or at higher levels.
Undoubtedly, the most affected and stressed are those who are in their final years of school, waiting for admission to colleges. And those who are waiting to write their final college exams or have passed the final year of undergraduate college, and are waiting to decide on the path ahead.
In the city, too, as we speak to students who have written their Class 12 Board examinations, we find them grappling with extreme uncertainty over the road ahead as key national and state level entrance examinations keep getting postponed. Some local colleges have introduced new norms and modes of admission, even if a little tentatively.
Getting into college
Submission of application forms, certificate verification, counselling and personal interviews — the various steps of the admission procedure are being conducted online for all the colleges in the city. While a few colleges had already adopted the online route for some of this years ago, the pandemic has now compelled most to follow suit. Necessity is the mother of all inventions, after all.
Engineering, Law and Arts and science colleges have taken their admission processes online following orders from the higher education department. The response to online admissions has been very positive, they say.
“A few courses require personal interviews of students for the selection process. While the students were physically visiting the college till last year, we are now conducting the same through Zoom or Google Meet. It is hassle free and has not affected the number of admissions,” says Dr Prince Annadurai, Dean of Student Affairs, Madras Christian College.
However, a major cause of stress among many of these students is the postponement of key state level entrance exams.
Here is the status of various national and state exams as they stand now.
|NEET 2020||September 13|
|JEE Mains||September 1 and 6th|
|JEE Advanced||September 27|
|TANCET||Over (Feb 29)|
|Tamil Nadu Aptitude Test in Architecture (TANATA)||August|
|CLAT||Online test (dates yet to be finalised)|
|NIT MCA Common Entrance Test (NIMCET)||Postponed|
|National Aptitude Test in Architecture (NATA)||August 29|
|All India entrance examination for B.Sc in Agriculture and allied sciences at Agriculture Universities AIEEA –Indian Council of Agricultural Research ICAR||Postponed|
|Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI All India Selection Test(AIST )||Cancelled|
Why are students stressed?
In a way, the pandemic has given additional time for the students preparing for these entrance exams. NEET and IIT exams are conducted in May every year and in a normal year, classes in all the institutions that accept these scores would have started by early July.
But the student community is perplexed this year. The uncertainty of it all and the general anxiety prevailing under the circumstances is making it difficult for many students to focus on preparations, despite all the time that they have now.
“The guidelines by the ministry to ensure social distancing in examination centres are promising. But as the COVID curve shows few signs of flattening and the risk of infection is high, the question of safety bothers me,” says Saathvika, who is preparing for NEET.
“When the world is fighting a pandemic, preparing for IIT exams suddenly seems to be less of a priority. My productivity has been hampered. I used to work eight hours a day on exam preparations before the pandemic, but that has gone down to less than two hours now,” says Harshitha Reddy, a student.
The delay in the announcement of Class 12 results was also a major concern. “I felt very anxious till the exam results were announced. Now that’s been done, I hope to be able to focus more on the JEE,” added Harshitha.
The situation in colleges
A month ago, the Ministry of Human Resource Development issued a memorandum stating that the final term examinations of all colleges should be compulsorily conducted before September end. To facilitate that, educational institutions may be allowed the necessary exemptions for the purpose of holding examinations.
This memorandum, however, has become a cause of stress for students and college administrators in Chennai, a city that was till recently one of the COVID-19 hotspots of the country. As many colleges fall in the COVID containment zones, administrators are apprehensive of reopening the institutions. And so, many colleges have conducted the final term exams online, while a few of them are yet to take a decision on the matter.
But how effective and fair are online examinations?
The Great Lakes Institute of Management, a prominent city-based business school, sent a mail to its students requesting them not to indulge in malpractices while writing the online exam. “It didn’t work, of course,” smirks Krishna (name changed), a final year MBA student at the institute. He got two of his friends to write his exams on his behalf. Having passed with a good score, Krishna has now completed the degree.
Even with all the risks of malpractice and lack of fair assessment, online exams seem to be the only way now. But some institutions are still hesitant.
“It is impossible to stop students from cheating during online exams. Rather than conducting it just for the sake of it, we have cancelled the exams. Students in our university are assessed based on internal marks,” says a professor from SRM University of Science and Technology.
“Online exams are not fully accurate, admittedly. But, even with 40 to 50% accuracy, students can be kept in the loop of learning and assessment. A lot of our students find the online exams exciting in fact,” says F R Francis Thomas, Principal of Loyola College. A month ago, Loyola College conducted the internal exams for the students online with strict protocols to minimise the chance of malpractice.
“We were assessed based on the multiple choice questions that were conducted online with a timer. Also, the questions were different for every student. The time limit and inability to go back to the previous question to edit the answer prevented malpractice to a large extent,” says Anto Nelson, a third-year B.Sc Maths student.