For 17-year-old Krithika, studying medicine to become a gynaecologist some day seems like a distant dream now. Daughter of a driver and a domestic help, she was hoping to secure a medical seat on merit. But the pandemic has messed with her plan.
With no public transport in Tamil Nadu, increase in coronavirus cases every day, mounting stress, and complete shutdown on Sundays, she is clueless how she will be able to take the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET-UG), scheduled to be held on 13 September.
“We need transport to go to the exam centres which is several hours away. I live in Porur and my centre is in Adyar and for the exam at 1 pm, I need to start by 11 am.”Krithika
Krithika is one among the many in the state who want the exams to be postponed. Even as the Tamil Nadu government has appealed to the Centre for their students to be exempted from appearing in the exams, a decision is pending. So, what are the challenges facing the students – and what do they want?
‘Have Given up my Dream’
A few students said their parents have pushed them to give up on their dream of becoming a doctor because of the risk involved in appearing for the entrance exam. Many of them have now enrolled in engineering and arts colleges.
“From the age of 10, I wanted to become a doctor. But this time, because the government didn’t consider our XII marks and is going ahead in the NEET route, I have been forced to join software engineering,” a student from Trichy told The Quint.
“There is already so much confusion and we have been so stressed. I decided to give up on my dream to do medicine and have joined B.Sc. Physics instead,” said another student from Chennai.
The enrollment of students for NEET in Tamil Nadu recorded a 13 percent decline compared to 2019. As many as 134,714 candidates enrolled for the test in 2019 while only 117,990 enrolled this year from Tamil Nadu, according to the state-wise distribution of candidates released by the National Testing Agency.
‘Travelling a Major Health Risk’
Krithika, who would need to travel to the neighbouring district to write the exam, says her parents are afraid to risk their lives.
“We don’t even know if someone has the symptoms or is asymptomatic. How can we be safe at the exam hall? And then we have our parents accompanying us and waiting outside in a crowd. They are at more risk. How is this safe?”Kritika, NEET Aspirant
She also said apart from the fact that auto rickshaws will charge double the fare and most families are already reeling under financial strain due to job losses, “What if we contract the virus when we go to use the bathroom? What if the taps and doors were touched by a COVID-19 positive person? How will we even know?”
A Long-Drawn Battle in TN
NEET has always been a contentious issue in Tamil Nadu. For the last few years, students, parents, teachers and political leaders in the state have been against the exam. They have alleged that the exam puts those students under the state board syllabus at a disadvantage. Even the Madras High Court stated the exam is discriminatory for poor students from the state. The Tamil Nadu Cabinet recently passed a resolution to reserve 7.5% of all medical seats in the state for government school students who pass the NEET exam.
A few students told The Quint tha they are opposing the exam because they are not in the right state of mind to prepare, their state board syllabus doesn’t equip them to perform well in the competitive exam and with the lockdown they are not able to attend coaching classes. Sumathi told The Quint that although the Tamil Nadu syllabus has been upgraded to meet CBSE standards, the state needs a few more years to make its students ready for the exam.
A few others, however, said that the state has arranged a number of free online classes for preparing for the exam and given a few more months, they will be ready to take on the exam.