Quantcast

Schoolgirl told to remove braided hair extensions as father blasts school for ‘discrimination’ 

Schoolgirl, 12, is left in tears after teachers told her to remove white braided hair extensions she wore in honour of her Jamaican heritage...
More

    ‘War of the Roses’ brawler Brandon Locke-Walker banned from drinking alcohol after Rosehill brawl

    'War of the Roses' brawler seen fighting with up to 30 people at Rosehill Racecourse is banned from drinking for a YEAR but avoids...

    Carrie Symonds enjoys five-star Italian holiday as Rishi Sunak unveils urgent measures to save jobs

    EXCLUSIVE: In the week Boris told a battered Britain it was in for another six months of Covid winter misery, his partner Carrie Symonds...

    Married At First Sight’s Sarah Roza gets a ‘non-invasive’ neck and jaw lift

    Forever young! Married At First Sight's Sarah Roza, 40, gets a 'non-invasive' neck and jaw lift... after previously professing her 'love' of BotoxBy Demeter...

    Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance has £600,000 of shares in vaccine maker GSK

    Conflict of interest row as it emerges Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance has £600,000 of shares in vaccine maker contracted to make UK's...

    India’s toughest exams get even more stressful during the pandemic

    Bhuraj Pokhrel has been preparing for India’s high-stakes medical school entrance exam for three years. His father, a tea farmer, shelled out more than $2,000 for tutoring in the hope that his elder son would become the first in his family to attend a university.

    Now with the test just two weeks away, the 19-year-old Pokhrel desperately hopes it will be postponed.

    India is in the grip of one of the world’s gravest COVID-19 epidemics, with more than 3.3 million people infected, 60,000 dead and the caseload rising faster than in any other major country. Despite this, the central government is planning to administer the entrance exams for medical and engineering schools for 2.5 million eligible students, insisting it has plans in place to minimize the health risk.

    But student groups are demanding the government reconsider, worried that traveling to and from testing sites and sitting in classrooms for hours at a time — combined with India’s less-than-shining reputation for observing strict protocols — will fuel the spread of a virus that has overwhelmed a beleaguered health system.

    Advertisement

    Many worry about contracting the virus and passing it on to parents or elderly relatives in a society where multiple generations often live under one roof.

    “How can we take this exam with peace of mind?” Pokhrel said by phone from Batiamari, a village in Assam state in northeast India, where he lives with five family members, including his 83-year-old grandmother. Unable to focus, he’s spent the week participating in a social media campaign to persuade officials to put off the test.

    “Some students have been preparing for years,” he said. “If they’re not able to [take] this exam, it’s an injustice for them. But if these exams occur, the government’s plans don’t guarantee safety for everyone — it could violate our right to life.”

    A health worker takes a nasal swab sample to test for COVID-19 in Ahmedabad, India.

    (Ajit Solanki / Associated Press)

    Advertisement

    It’s a dilemma confronting governments around the world this summer: whether and how to restart education systems short-circuited by coronavirus outbreaks and lockdowns.

    India has already twice postponed the grueling annual tests for those aspiring to enter two of traditional Indian society’s most celebrated professions, engineering and medicine. Last week, more than 4,000 members of the All-India Students Assn. reportedly mounted a daylong hunger strike demanding that the exams be postponed again.

    But the country’s Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by 11 students seeking a further delay, arguing it would mean the loss of an entire academic year.

    “Life should move on,” said Justice Arun Mishra, “even in COVID-19 times.”

    Advertisement

    For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, proceeding with the exams would send a strong signal that life in India is returning to normal despite tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases emerging daily. On Thursday, the country recorded its highest number of confirmed infections within a single day: 75,760. Earlier this month, India’s cumulative caseload shot up from 2 million to 3 million in less than three weeks.

    The Joint Entrance Exams, which determine admission to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, the gateway to medical schools, loom large on the national calendar. For students, they bring relentless family expectations and often debilitating stress. Thousands have committed suicide from the pressure at home and from coaches at private tuition centers.

    Those who succeed find their pictures and scores plastered across newspapers, billboards and buses in advertisements for tuition centers hungry for their next lucrative crop of customers.

    Advertisement

    The anxiety is one reason many believe the tests should go forward in September as planned.

    “We want to get it over and done with,” said Yogita Kulkarni, whose 17-year-old daughter has been preparing for the medical school test for 2½ years. “It is not good for the mental health of students or parents.”

    Without any sign that COVID-19 is abating, Kulkarni, from the western city of Solapur, worries that pushing the tests back another year would mean twice as many students competing for the same number of slots. She thinks the students who want the exams postponed are unprepared and eager (or desperate) for the government to bail them out.

    “They have time to tweet and upload posts,” she said. “Instead they should study.”

    Advertisement

    India’s National Testing Agency said that about 930,000 students were eligible for the engineering exams, which run from Sept. 1-6, and that 1.6 million could take the medical school test Sept. 13.

    To improve social distancing, the agency said it has added at least 1,300 testing centers, planned for staggered entry and exit points, and adjusted schedules to reduce the numbers of candidates per classroom from 24 to 12.

    It also called on state governments to help students travel to testing centers — a major challenge given that trains and most bus services remain canceled and parts of India have been deluged by floods caused by heavier-than-usual monsoon rains.

    Advertisement

    “My testing center is not in the best shape,” said Priyanshu Rai, a 19-year-old engineering candidate from the flood-hit northern state of Bihar.

    “It’s waterlogged in the monsoon. There are no parking spaces and only one car can enter at a time. There will be students coming from different districts so there is bound to be chaos.”

    Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg lent her voice to students demanding a postponement, tweeting this week that it was “deeply unfair” for India to administer the exams in the midst of flooding and a pandemic.

    Advertisement

    India’s opposition parties have accused the government of a disjointed response, asking why the tests must go ahead even as major parts of the government, including the Parliament, remain closed.

    Pohkrel, at home in Assam, is tweeting his way through the rising anxiety. Above all, he worries what would happen if he falls ill. The nearest doctor to his village is 15 miles away, he said, and the closest major hospital even farther.

    His testing center lies more than 200 miles from his house — a journey that can cost nearly $100 one way if he has to hire a taxi. With no money for a hotel, he would likely have to take the most important exam of his life on little to no sleep.

    “If the exams are conducted, I’ll have to take them, because I can’t afford to pay for private coaching next year,” he said. “My parents are afraid, but what can we do? This is my future.”

    Advertisement

    Special correspondent Parth M.N. reported from Mumbai and Times staff writer Bengali from Singapore.

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Latest Posts

    Watch Live: Ginsburg to Be Honored at the Capitol

    Whether it’s reporting on conflicts abroad and political divisions at home, or covering the latest style trends and scientific developments, Times Video journalists provide...

    Amber Rose wows in a plunging black swimsuit as she joins Tyga on beach holiday

    Amber Rose wows in a plunging black swimsuit as she joins Tyga and pals while jet-skiing off the beach during group holiday in Mexico By...

    Kepa Arrizabalaga will KEEP place in Chelsea starting line-up for West Brom clash

    Kepa Arrizabalaga will KEEP his place in Chelsea's starting line-up for West Brom clash as Frank Lampard reveals the game is too soon for...