Soon,  millions of Indian students are anticipated to sit their long-awaited university entrance exams, yet, this year the prized exams are at the centre of growing controversy as the country reaches new heights in the spread of coronavirus.

The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) are both annual competitive tests that effectively determine the fate of millions of Indian students. These esteemed examinations dictate the careers for medical and engineering colleges, respectively; two professions highly-regarded in India. 

The issue, however, has taken a political turn after state governments opposed to the decision of the education ministry to hold the examination and potentially expose hundreds of thousands of students and their families to COVID-19.

In response, students have protested on Twitter and other social media platforms demanding the government postpone the tests. Adding further mental pressure and anxiety to students, are fears of contracting the virus on the way to the exam centre, or at the overcrowded centre itself, risking lives.

Yet, COVID-19 is not the only issue. Floods have ravaged the states of Bihar and Assam, affecting as many as 8 million people imposed to lockdown until 6 September; complicating matters further.

Around 1.5 million students have registered for the NEET (medical) exams this year. Source: BBC

Recognising the pleas of the studious, Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg weighed in on the students’ behalf that the exams were an unjust expectation upon Indian students. 

“It’s deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the COVID-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID,” twitted Greta. 

Regrettably, India’s Supreme Court dismissed the students’ petitions, saying that “ultimately life has to go on and the career of the students cannot be put on peril for long and a full academic year cannot be wasted”.

Indian leaders have contended that further delays will squander the academic year. 

“Students and guardians constantly put pressure on us to conduct the examinations,” said Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal.

Furthermore, the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the exams, has so far refused to reschedule the critical test due to the pandemic, stating that it can no longer be put off.

In India, the pressures of academic achievement and family expectations are well-pronounced and tremendously cherished. Though concerns of holding back academic progress are relevant arguments, it certainly should not be gambled for placing the wellbeing of students at risk.

In a supremely competitive environment, this may be their only chance of applying for colleges and launching their careers.