- Visfac Bonavolo
Amidst a highly competitive exam culture in many countries of the world, students have been preparing for the university entrance examination for several years. But despite their focus on studying for success, the Corona outbreak has turned the equation.
On December 10, more than half a million students from across India were attending an interactive live meeting with the Minister of Education, broadcast simultaneously on Facebook and Twitter. The speech aimed to discuss students’ concerns related to the upcoming university entrance exams, which are surrounded by a lot of uncertainty due to the Corona pandemic.
Although the meeting was described as an interactive session, it was largely a matter of two parties talking separately without appearing to be listening to the other. While the minister praised the education system in India for overcoming the challenges posed by the spread of the epidemic, students’ comments were continuous about their suffering in order to cope with the current situation and their demands to postpone the date of the exams.
These exams are extremely important, as their results determine students’ career prospects. The campaigns calling for it to be postponed have almost occupied social media since the first general closure in March due to the spread of the Corona epidemic led to the suspension of all exams. Among the examinations that have been postponed are the joint entrance examination known as “Jeff” and the National Entrance Examination “Nate”, which are of utmost importance, and their results determine eligibility to study in the fields of medicine and engineering.
Education in India is a highly competitive arena, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where competition is most intense. For example, prestigious institutes of technology in India usually accept 1 student in 50 applicants. (For comparison: Harvard University accepts one student in every 19 applicants, while Oxford University accepts one student out of every six applicants.)
With hundreds of thousands of students applying to respected science colleges every year, very difficult exams, such as the “Jeff” and “Nate” exams, are specially designed to exclude large numbers of applicants. Losing a score or two in such exams can lead to a decline in luck. Student admission in thousands of ranks.
Some students spend most of their teenage years preparing for these exams, and most of them enroll in training institutes specializing in how to pass these exams, which they give priority to preparing for them over any other concerns. All this in the hope that their admission to one of the colleges of the respected name will lead to them obtaining an average annual salary of about 50 thousand dollars. It is a prize well worth the effort expended for it in a country where per capita income hardly exceeds $ 2000.
This year, however, most students were unable to prepare for exams as normally needed due to the lockdown and an unequal shift to online education. During the hour that it took for their interactive meeting with the minister, the students complained about the irregularity of the internet connection and the difficulties of studying via video, which made it difficult to follow the educational lessons, as well as assess the level of their quality and effectiveness. As a result, many of them felt that they had theoretically studied the curriculum, but in reality did not understand very little of it, and were therefore not properly prepared for the exams that were the most important in their lives.
The institutes that prepare students to pass university entrance exams lack specific laws and regulations, and they represent an industry valued at about four billion dollars according to 2015 figures, and are present in all sizes and shapes, from the huge chains of institutes that have branches across the country, to those Small, run by two people, and students are restricted to the neighborhood. In some cases, the economy of entire cities may depend on their reputation as attracting good study and training centers. One of the most famous of these centers is Kota in the state of Rajasthan, which attracts about 100,000 students every year.
“The only thing they focus on is preparing you for university entrance exams, and what they teach students is how to solve multiple-choice questions. They know it very well, and they know how to be set,” says Bindo Terumalai, who works at the Center for Educational Innovation and Practical Research at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. , And how to recognize the types of questions, and how wrong answers are definitely excluded, as well as narrowing down the options. These are the ideas they adopt, and they really master them. ”
It is very difficult to enroll in some training centers, and they even require passing their own entrance exams. There is no doubt that this approach is significantly burdensome for students.
Ravali Prasadeh Idara, who enrolled in the early 2000s at a science college through a training institute, and is working as a teacher in one of the large training institutes, describes the years she spent preparing to enter university as “tiring.” The classes I attended in Hyderabad used to start at four in the morning and end at ten, after which students could enroll in their schools. The dress code was strict, as were social guidelines. “Whether for me at the time, or for the students I coach today, there is no social life at all,” she says.
Attending these training and remedial classes is an essential and difficult commitment, but many students consider that the hard effort they make over the years is worth it if it results in their admission to a reputable educational institution. But despite the students’ determination and strong desire to study and prepare, the spread of the epidemic has spoiled their plans.
“When the closure was imposed, my academic program was undermined, and I lost interest in studying,” says Dipshika, a 19-year-old student. “My interest was in following up on the date that could be set for the exam.” Depeshika spent nearly four years preparing for the exam, and for more than two years she was trying to reconcile her school with the timing of lessons at the training center.
Although most training centers had completed teaching the curriculum prior to the imposition of the general lockdown, students lost time normally devoted to revision and mock exams. “We suffered a lot because of the switch to online study,” says Asfeni Thilay, an 18-year-old student who devoted a year after completing her schooling to focus on preparing for the Nate exam.
Although Thilai is from the southern city of Chennai, she has enrolled in a training center in Delhi because she believes that her presence in a competitive environment prompts her to study better. But when the lockdown was imposed, she had to return to her city, and that was difficult. She explains, “A lot of people could not get used to that. Some could not focus on studying because they live with their large families, while others had technical problems with the Internet.”
According to Idara, the conditions created by the spread of the epidemic cast a shadow over the students, who were accustomed to the strict discipline in training centers. “These students were just pushed to study. They studied for many years together, and their lives almost never included anything else. They barely get ten days off during the whole year, and every Sunday they have a written exam,” she says.
“When you give them freedom in these circumstances, it is obvious that they take advantage of it. Thus, they stop studying, and they watch TV a lot, and try to watch the films they have missed in recent years,” she added.
After months of ignoring the problem, the Indian government announced that the “Nate” and “Jeff” exams would be held in September, which led to many objections by the students, along with reports of a number of suicides among them. Despite the enormous pressure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignored the issue, choosing instead to use his monthly speech to the nation to urge citizens to breed local factions of dogs. The students expressed their protest against this by pressing the “I dislike” button more than 800,000 times on the video of the Prime Minister’s speech displayed on YouTube, which made the prime minister’s main channel cancel the Do Not Like button feature.
“I had to think about protecting myself from the virus and dealing with the pressures of taking a big and tough exam at the same time,” says Jyotiraditya Raman Singh, who lives in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and who took the “GIF” exam last September. The students and observers are from everywhere in India, so there were great fears of infection, which dominated my thinking. ” The spread of the epidemic greatly affected Raman Singh’s preparation for the exam, and he failed to obtain the grades required to enroll in any of the engineering colleges he had hoped to enter.
As for Dipshika, this year was her second and last attempt to take the “Jeff” exam, and her grades were not sufficient to enter one of the prestigious science colleges, and she believes that she must now accept study at a second-class university in the state of Jharkhand from which she came. Likewise, Thylay, who took the Nate exam this year, was not what she had hoped, and is now preparing applications for admission to a dental school, which requires slightly lower scores.
The National Examination Agency, which organizes the “GIF” exam, announced that this year students will be given the opportunity to take the exam four times instead of twice as usual. However, to allow for the two additional sessions, the exam will start in February instead of April. While there is no official announcement regarding the “NET” exam yet, there does not seem to be a tendency to postpone it either.
Although many training centers are still closed or have turned to teaching online, in addition to the registration of 10 million cases of Coronavirus in India so far, students will have to submit their exams within a few months at training centers, and they may have to travel for that.
“They are not prepared, they have been taking lessons online for five months, but they tell us that they are not studying at all at home, they just listen to the lessons, or they hide the sound half the time,” says Idara, the school. So it is not surprising that social media is flooded for a second time with calls to postpone exams.
However, while discussions rage about changing exam dates, there is little talk about discussing issues related to the higher education system in India, such as the lack of adequate places in universities, and the results of focusing on success in entrance examinations at the expense of actual learning and study.
“The crisis could have been used to rethink the education system,” says Sumitra Pathar, a psychiatrist and director of the Center for Mental Health Law and Policy at the Ellis School of Legal Studies. “It was not handled that way.” Instead of trying to find long-term solutions, Bathar believes, the public discourse has focused on whether canceling exams or subjecting them to further postponement will result in wasting the year in vain. “There is something that has really killed many of the hopes of young people this year, and that is the uncertainty,” she says. Uncertainty. “
For Rishit Bulbidi, a 17-year-old student from Hyderabad, Jeff’s upcoming exam will be the moment to determine his career, and yet he has not prepared for it adequately. “The online lessons weren’t helpful enough,” he says. We did not even finish half of our curriculum, and it is very difficult to understand what was explained to us, due to the absence of real interaction with the teachers. ”
As a result of his disappointment with the performance of the training center he joined, Bulbidi resorted to private lessons, and also turned to the tutoring classes available on YouTube to help him collect what he missed. “I think I might be able to complete the curriculum on my own on the date of the exam. As it happens, I will have to withdraw and try again next year. “