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By Rusievan Shangpliang
OPINION | JULY 23, 2020:
On 6, July 2020, the University Grants Commission (UGC) released the guidelines on conducting final-year examinations for university and college students before the end of September 2020.
According to these guidelines, examinations should be conducted via online or writing mode or a combination of both. As soon as it was announced, many student bodies, political parties, writers, parents, teachers and students across the nation raised their concern on the insistence of the UGC to conduct the examinations amidst the unprecedented rise of COVID-19 cases in the country.
The North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) and the Government of Meghalaya have not decided on what they should do in Meghalaya, given the fact that the state is also witnessing a daily rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases.
Putting together the thoughts, opinions and expressions of students, teachers and parents across the state, this article highlights their plight and their suggestions on this matter. For the best interest of the respondents, we will maintain their anonymity.
STUDENTS VOICE THEIR CONCERNS
"I don't agree with the offline mode of examinations. If it's possible online, then it's fine. But connectivity is a major problem in some areas. So, it's an overall No."
"A majority of the students are not from Shillong. Parents also will feel helpless if they should send their child, as no parent wants to mess with their child's education. But they're afraid of this pandemic. They shouldn't conduct exams this time because in case, God forbids, any student becomes a carrier then all are at risk not only students, teachers, everyone. If the UGC still want to conduct exams, then they'll solely be responsible for everything and there will be nobody to blame but them."
"Is one year or one semester of education worth risking your life for? Do you think every student gets an equal opportunity to prepare for one's exams in such a time as this? Most students don't even get notes or cannot attend online classes because of the unavailability of internet services. Is online examination fair for the underprivileged? Is it worth risking the lives of students and teachers by bringing them to one place for the examinations? What about out stationed students? I think it will be very dangerous for all the students and the invigilators. I prefer to wait until the situation is out of danger. I don't want to risk myself, my family, and the entire community."
"If we sit for the exam in September without teachers' lectures and discussions, I think it might affect our future. So, I don't like the exam without teachers' explanations."
"I think students' lives matter, the entire world is in jeopardy now, even the most prestigious institutions like IITs have scrapped examination, so UGC also needs to follow this. The UGC's resolution in conducting the exams in September is awful and unconstitutional. By risking our life in this severe situation, I feel like UGC breaking down one of the precious rights of the student i.e., Right to live. Students' lives matter."
"As we all know that COVID-19 positive cases are piling up in our country; so what's the point of hurrying for exams? They should be more concerned about students' health. We're not even done with our syllabus. If they are still trying to conduct the exams in this situation, that'd be an unscrupulous act of government."
"I agree that exams are important, but on the contrary, during this pandemic, we learned nothing. Just when we started our new semester, we had to be cut off from our classes due to this pandemic, so what should we even write about in our exams?"
"If it's only about assessing the final-year students and handing them their degrees, then they shouldn't take the risk of spreading the disease by conducting the exams. Instead, look for some alternatives similar to the Indian Institutes of Technology and the National Law Universities, which have completed their evaluation of final-year students through internal assessments of their previous semesters and granted them degrees."
"I do not support the UGC's decision to conduct the examinations due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. No matter what protocols they intend to follow during the examination and how vigilant and careful we try to be, we do not know how effective our efforts will be. Health and safety come first. Another reason is that it is difficult for us to sit for an examination without a proper and clear understanding of the whole syllabus, as we did not get to attend classes for this semester."
"In this current situation, this might have been a mistake. They do not provide students with proper classes, teaching and the learning progress is almost zero. It's undeniable that online classes are being implemented, but all students are not equally privileged, and it is not an excuse. Online classes are very much inferior to physical ones. What about the practicals? Exams without classes seem meaningless. COVID-19 cases are ballooning and, unfortunately, UGC is putting our lives at stake for the sake of exams. How could exams be more important than the lives of students? Serious analysis is necessary."
"Honestly, conducting the examinations amid the pandemic is not at all a moral decision. They should not hold exams during a pandemic. UGC notification brings nothing except panic on the student community and their parents. A good deal of people might suggest online examinations, but this is ridiculous because online examinations discriminate the poorer section of students who don't have access to it. Above all, the respective university should release the notification about the examination in a way that students can remain calm and not instigate fear and panic."
"To be honest, I don't agree; I don't want to risk my life. As we know, our neighbour – Assam is a state with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Northeast; and we have a large number of students from Assam in NEHU. It's a risk for everyone."
"They conducted the SSLC exam in South India and many students contracted COVID-19. Are exams worth risking our lives? Recently, the corona situation in our state has worsened. With an abrupt increase of active cases, conducting our final exams would mean calling the students living in other states to return to our state. The risk of them getting the virus and bringing it to the state is high, and I need not be an expert to point that out. Even if they miraculously make it to this state, they will still need to undergo quarantine for 14 days and researches have proved that 14 days aren't enough. So where will they spend nearly a month just in quarantine?"
"Active COVID-19 cases are on the rise and students need to go for inter-state movement if exams are to be held. I don't want to travel to the state I study in since that is a hotspot area and my landlords will not allow me to. Where will I stay and prepare? How sure is the UGC that I will not get infected? I find it is the most ridiculous decision ever."
"This shows that our country gives more emphasis on exams than life itself (IT'S A PANDEMIC!! NOT SOME COUGHMIC OR COLDMIC). Anyone with a rational approach will weigh out the pros and cons to come up with the best solution, and in this situation, there are way too many cons."
"I am not in favour of the decision. I believe the UGC should reconsider its decision. Neither is an offline exam workable nor is the online mode without serious glitches. All this psychologically affected us and isn't doing us any good."
"I've been having network problems since day one of the online classes; I have to go here and there for a stable network. And now it's been a week with no electricity because of heavy rainfall that lasted over a week; the machine got damaged and that happens every year here and it will take 3 to 4 months to get a new one. So, regarding the decision of online exams, I'd Say No! and a big No to attending classroom exam during this pandemic, I can't risk myself for it."
"Online classes helped a little but so many portions had to be dealt practically and studying without understanding is difficult, so conducting exam will make it even more complicated. And there were no online classes for general subjects, they just gave us notes and assignments. For subjects like chemistry and Botany or Zoology, it's difficult to understand and form our own analysis."
"I don't think we would want to risk our necks. Why can't they accept the fact that this year does not allow us to do stuff like normal years?"
"The Guidelines of the UGC are the cruelest Guidelines I've ever seen. They want the students to complete their exams by the end of September just because it is important economically, but what about our lives? And do we have the facilities and the means? The cases are rising every day, but UGC is blind to the plight of the students. How will the students in Red zones give their exams? Besides, internet connectivity and smart devices are not at everyone's disposal. The UGC and the Government as a whole popularize 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' yet they act otherwise. Where have they lost their humanity?"
"Now I know that in our country, education is just for testing our brains and not for knowledge. Even if we have exams, can they guarantee us they will provide us with jobs? When students get infected with COVID-19, can UGC cure us? Can UGC give us life? I am against the guidelines of the UGC. No exams, cancel exams, a student's life matters."
"I am against the UGC guidelines to conduct the exam; I can't risk my life. UGC says final year exam is important as it decides our future, but what about those students who have passed out but still sitting at home with no job. I can't risk my life for a degree as the situation is not good. Even my parents are against the decision taken by the UGC. Students' Lives Matter".
"I feel sad that the Government will risk the lives of students just for the sake of their policy to make students take the exam amid the rise of COVID 19 cases in the country. So, as I feel, we should oppose this dangerous step of the UGC."
"How can they tell students to go attend an exam when we were not even taught properly during this crisis? It just makes little to no sense at all."
TEACHERS GIVE THEIR SIDE OF THE STORY
"As a teacher, it feels incomplete to teach students online. We don't get as much response and feedback from the students since it is tough for them."
"Being a teacher, I feel the decision of the UGC to enforce exams for final year students is something drastic. During this pandemic crisis where classes being almost washed out, teachers, students and parents have had a raw deal this year. Conducting exams means there is too much at stake for the students, invigilators, administrators and parents. The UGC needs to revisit its guidelines immediately and take a humane and rational approach in this matter."
PARENTS SPEAK OUT
"As a mother, I strongly object and oppose this decision of the UGC for its insensitive and hurried approach towards conducting exams. We don't feel safe to send our kids to the school or college for the exam, and online exams and tests are the worst ideas. We live for our kids and we cannot send them to face grave danger in this crisis, please save us from being mentally harassed as we are already going through a lot."
The above feedback is among thousands by stakeholders who have no ill intention or political affiliation of any kind.
This shows the amount of pressure they have had to tackle since the UGC announced its guidelines.
We can see that the UGC guidelines came as a surprise to the stakeholders who have no other alternative but to oppose it.
To compare the opening of essential and non-essential establishments/shops with the re-opening of educational institutions or conducting exams at this stage could be a blunder and unethical.
By turning a deaf ear to the plight of the stakeholders in education, the UGC is headstrong in maintaining academic credibility without assessing the current situation, although it states that it cannot guarantee the safety of anyone.
If this is the case, then the Government's guidelines on health protocols are defeating their purposes.
How long will NEHU authorities and the State Government remain silent? Are they willing to take the risk? If yes, at what cost? And do the lives of students matter at all, or is their education more important?
We need to take this all into consideration before it is too late.
(Dr. Rusievan Shangpliang is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of History, Synod College, Shillong)
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