It’s been almost four months since India’s national lockdown sent student lives into limbo. At universities across India, students are battling varying guidelines, changing exam dates and the whims of authorities as they prepare for their final year exams. All at a time when colleges have struggled to conduct classes online, share study material and, well, teach.
In Delhi, the High Court is hearing a petition against Delhi University’s decision to hold its final semester exams online. The exams, due to begin on August 10, have been postponed at least twice.
In Maharashtra, medical students are threatening to go on strike if their exams are not cancelled. The students say their final exams are being held at institutions that are active covid centres.
In Kerala, the state government is facing enormous backlash for holding the Kerala Engineering Architecture Medical entrance exam last week. At least five students who wrote the exam subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The Kerala police registered a case against about 600 parents of students for flouting social distancing norms.
On Thursday, a group of 31 students from states including Karnataka, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Meghalaya moved the Supreme Court against the University Grants Commission (UGC) which has directed universities to conduct final year exams by September-end. The matter will be heard on July 27.
We asked students across the country how they have been preparing for exams amidst this turmoil. Dozens responded, some asked for their names to be published, some asked for their names to be withheld. Here’s what they told us:
We’re not scared of giving exams, but we aren’t ready because we weren’t taught this semester. We were sent home after the college declared 15 days holiday at the start of the pandemic in India. All our class notes, laptops and materials are in the hostel.
The University tried to conduct online classes, but only 50% of my classmates could attend. Most of my friends are from rural areas. (Also, how does one take practicals online?)
Now, suddenly our college has asked everyone to do assignments and be prepared for exams from August 1! We are asked to buy A4 sheets and get printouts. How will they ensure our safety when we step out?
— Final year student, BSc Agriculture Science student, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Coimbatore
How will these exams happen when we don’t have our textbooks? I live in the village of Bibipur, Ambedkar Nagar, UP. Due to heavy rains and wind, the transformer here has short-circuited. There is no guarantee of constant electricity in our house.
My father is a day labourer, now unemployed, who used to work in Delhi. Only we know how our household runs in these circumstances.
In this situation, the online open book exam is a source of despair and frustration for both me and my family. The authorities are discriminating between the rich and the poor.
— Final year student, BA Hons History, Hansraj College, Delhi University
VTU decided to conduct offline classes from August 1-14 (optional to attend) and offline exams only for final year students from August 17 onwards. I am from Andhra Pradesh and there are a lot of people like me who left for their hometowns because of the current situation. So we are put in a situation where we have to travel, stay in flats, paying guest accommodations and hostels where there is no social distancing and travel in local transport to attend an exam with a bunch of other students in the same class.
Most final year students already have job offers, and most companies have set the joining date as mid-July or the first week of August.
Another problem is that Bengaluru was under lockdown till July 21. There is a quarantine period of 14 days for whoever comes to Karnataka from other states. So, if we reach Karnataka after July 22, our quarantine period clashes with the classes. The college refuses to take any measures or support for the students if they are affected by COVID.
— Sujay Dusanapudi, final year student, Visvesvaraya Technological University, Regional Center, Bengaluru
I migrated to Delhi only for college and at the moment have been stuck in Gurgaon for almost 5 months now. I’m unable to go back home to Calcutta because the open book exam kept getting postponed abruptly and many students have been waiting to finish their exams and then return home. That said, I’m still far more privileged than students who do not have the means to appear for these exams to begin with and the way the university has shunned the protest from all students is shameful.
— Kareema Barry, final year student, Hindu College, Delhi University
My family and I have been in quarantine since March but my mother is an essential worker. She continues to go to work during the pandemic and therefore, we take greater precautions to ensure that we don’t interact with people outside the house (in case we are asymptomatic carriers). I live in an apartment complex and numerous members of the colony have tested positive. It would be incredibly unwise and unethical for me to sit in an exam hall with my classmates (many of whom come from lower income backgrounds) and risk spreading the virus. But if offline exams are held, what choice would I have?
An online exam (if that is what is conducted) will be inaccessible to so many students who have worked tirelessly for 3 years.
I had intended to do my masters at a university abroad this year and had received a scholarship for the same. They require me to submit my final year transcripts by the end of July. I have worked towards this goal for 5 years now and I will now lose my scholarship as well as my admission.
Our final year degree is awarded to us after continuous evaluation through the course of three years. We have been assessed through assignments, open book tests, quizzes, presentations and examinations over the course of these three years. Our final semesters have also been evaluated internally. To say that students would get free degrees with no effort in the absence of our final semester exams is a gross trivialisation of our continuous and systematic efforts over the course of our university education. It is unfair and unethical.
— Final year student, BA Economics, Stella Maris College
After multiple changes, the university of Delhi very conveniently pushed exams to mid-August and would now give our results by Oct end-November end, leading us to wasting an entire year because the government doesn’t care, neither does the university.
For me personally, I got acceptances from top universities in the UK like University College London, University of St Andrews, University of Bath and 7 others. Most of them have already cancelled my offers, some have asked me to place a request of defer and one university even went to the extent of allowing me to submit my transcript to 1st September but I will be unable to do that as well.
UGC compared us to MIT, Cambridge and Harvard saying those are top universities and they held exams. The fact of the matter is yes, they are top universities and they are in first world countries and they have what it takes to take exams in such a circumstance, we don’t. Our universities don’t even come in Top 300 globally, so it really shouldn’t be a comparison. Secondly, those universities took exams long back not hampering the students’ futures. And lastly, in either of the cases the government did not interfere in the decision of various universities and states... We just need support and we need it now.
— Tanya Chandra, final year student of Psychology Hons, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University
The guideline itself says ‘performance in examination gives confidence and satisfaction to the students’ To whom are you talking about this performance based confidence ?
To the students who are not privileged enough to have the infrastructure you demand ? To the students who lost their dear ones due to COVID ? To the students falling mentally ill day by day and struggling to handle each day? To the students who lost all financial stability they had ?
How dare you ask them to wait for their ‘next’ chance to give exams?
I was under medication for severe depressive disorder for the last one and half years. I was getting better slowly but all these sudden developments just pushed me back to the same pit I was struggling to get out of. And I can’t meet my doctor due to this COVID situation. What’s disturbing is that I’m expected to be ‘prepared,’ be ‘okay’ and ‘confident’ to ‘perform’ in the exam with my ever fluctuating network connection.
— Final year student, Delhi University
My hometown is in Sikkim but ever since the lockdown I’ve been in Delhi. I haven’t gone home even after the lockdown eased in May because my final semester exams were scheduled to be held from the first week of July. Sikkim sees heavy rainfall in the month of June-July with electricity gone for days. Internet works on 3G on the best days. So I’ve been staying alone in Delhi for the past four months, with my exams postponed twice.
I have an admission offer from the University of Cambridge for this fall semester which is set to begin in October. The deadline for meeting offer conditions is August 21, which I don’t think I can meet since DU will be conducting the online exams from August 17.
Things haven’t been good at all with my mental health in ruins. I’m caught between all the uncertainties of exam dates, and living alone with no immediate friends or family in Delhi. In the past month I’ve developed insomnia. I’m on anxiety medications and regular therapy. My daily routine involves waking up to check my Twitter and messaging anyone and everyone who is ready to hear me out. I’ve worked endlessly for a year to secure a seat at the University of Cambridge. I’ve also already taken out a student loan to pay for my studies. But Delhi University has proven inefficient and insensitive towards students’ plight, expecting us to be on ‘exam mode’ since the month of May and postponing the exams twice, not because of student protest but because of their own technical incompetence.
— Final year student, MA History, Delhi University
My father tested positive for COVID-19, just before the mock exams (July 4) and a few days later, the rest of my family members (including myself) developed the same symptoms too. Under these circumstances, should I take on the additional stress and anxieties of an online exam, that too with absolutely minimal preparation on the part of the administration? I am still among the fortunate ones, I know there are thousands of students in worse conditions than I am. Are we supposed to somehow manage to study and give an online exam compounded by myriad technical failures and anxieties while battling COVID at the same time?
— Tathagat Singh, final year student of BA (Hons) Economics, Kirori Mal College, Delhi University
The past couple of months have been incredibly difficult for me as a student affiliated to Maharashtra University of Health Sciences. I’m expected to sit for my exams at medical colleges which have been converted to active covid centres as exams are conducted in a phase-wise manner, starting August 4. All other exams in Maharashtra have been cancelled due to Covid-19.
It’s taken a toll on me mentally, the fear of it all is always at the back of my mind. Our lives reduced to a mere Rs 3 lakh if we contract the virus in exam centres and unfortunately pass away. We just need a little compassion and empathy.
(Ed note: The university announced that a student who contracts Covid-19 as a result of appearing for the exam will be given Rs 1 lakh for treatment, Rs 3 lakh in case they succumb to the virus.)
— Third year undergraduate student of physiotherapy, affiliated to Maharashtra University of Health Sciences
Appearing for exams in this situation isn’t safe and we are imposing danger on our families as we stay at home with them. My parents have comorbidities like hypertension and hyperlipidemia and my travelling (for the exam) imposes an increased threat on them as well.
MUHS asked us to select centres which are nearest to our homes so that we don’t have to travel to our respective colleges. However, a lot of medical students live in remote areas. A lot of them will have to travel across cities in the middle of a pandemic (to write the exam).
This situation isn’t favourable for any kind of gathering and giving exams is going to violate that. Exam cancellation is of utmost importance for our safety. I only hope for some consideration regarding the same from the University and Government.
— Rutuja Ghag, undergraduate student of physiotherapy, affiliated to Maharashtra Universities of Health Sciences