IS there anything in life that hasn’t been affected by Covid-19? Nothing. The difference is only in the degrees. Some aspects of our lives have been less affected by this pandemic, some have been more affected, and some worst affected. Education, I think, would belong to the last category. This pandemic has turned the lives of many students and teachers topsy-turvy.
The impact of every crisis, whether man-made or natural, depends on our preparedness and our resources. The more prepared we are, the lesser the impact. For this reason, students all over the world have been variously affected. Students in countries which are lagging in telecommunication infrastructure are the worst victims of the new coronavirus. Their plight would move every heart.
In addition to bringing new problems, Covid-19 has complicated existing ones. As an Indian teacher working in Qatar for the past 19 years, and as Director of Brilliant Group of Institutions, I have seen how Indian students in the Gulf, including in Qatar, have suffered due to this pandemic. But, unfortunately, we can’t put all the blame on the coronavirus. It’s only a weak body that succumbs to a disease. Similarly, it’s only a weak system that succumbs to external pressure.
Last year, thousands of Indian students in the Gulf missed out on their medical entrance examination called NEET because they couldn’t travel to India. Think about it. Thousands of dreams were shattered. Years of preparations gone waste. Millions of riyals spent on special coaching classes gone down the drain. Hundreds of students falling into depression. And what is the reason for this? Covid-19? Not fully. This is a situation that could have been avoided if only the government of India had acted before, and if only the hundreds of Indian organizations in the Gulf had thought about this issue and brought it to the attention of the authorities.
There are two major issues which Indian students in the Gulf are facing, which haven’t got the attention it deserves. First, all these decades, lakhs of students here have missed out on a number of very important competitive examinations for prestigious courses which are regularly held in India, for the simple reason that these exams are held only in India, and don’t have centres in the Gulf. One such important exam is Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY), which many of our students are keen to attend.
How many parents can fly home, or afford to send their children home, or get the leave for this purpose, for their children to attend exams in India? This is the situation during normal times. Covid-19 made travel impossible for many months last year as flights were suspended and airports closed.
The NEET exam for medical entrance happened during this time and thousands of parents, who would have taken every risk to send their children to India to attend the exam, found themselves absolutely helpless. Students who had nursed the dream of becoming a doctor for many years missed a golden opportunity.
We must look at the figures to see the extent of loss. According to official statistics, 1,869 NRI students registered for NEET last year, but only 854 could attend, which means only a meagre 45.7 per cent of those registered, whereas in India, 1.5 million students registered and 85 per cent of them could attend. At the same time, 70 percent of NRI students qualified in the exam, while in India, the percentage was only 56 percent.
This shows NRI students are doing extremely well. If the NEET was held in the Gulf, hundreds of students could have fulfilled their dreams.
There is a certain double standard visible here. The engineering entrance exam called JEE is held in the Gulf, but not NEET. The explanation given is that this is to ensure secrecy of the exam. But what secrecy does NEET have which JEE doesn’t have? Or, does the government consider JEE to be less important than NEET and wouldn’t mind manipulation in the JEE?
So, the only solution is that all the important competitive exams which are regularly held in India, including NEET, must be held in the Gulf, too. There are millions of Indians in the Gulf and hundreds of thousands of students from all states are studying here. Are their lives less important?
There is no doubt that the denial of equal opportunities to Indian students in the Gulf is a violation of their fundamental rights as Indian citizens, which is guaranteed by Indian constitution. It’s also a denial of their human rights.
Secondly, there is a need for urgent reforms in the CBSE exam system. Currently, the answer sheets of CBSE exams in the Gulf in the 10th and 12th standards are sent to India for evaluation. This is a Himalayan task, the logistics involved being stupendous. What’s the need to transport such huge quantities of paper to all parts of India when the evaluation can easily be done in the Gulf? These papers can be sent to a selected centre in the Gulf. There is already a Gulf Council for CBSE which can take care of this process, under the supervision of embassies.
The evaluation in India has been causing other problems. The number of CBSE teachers in India is just not enough to handle the quantity of work from the Gulf, as most schools in India are following the state syllabus. This puts CBSE teachers in India under huge pressure, affecting the quality of evaluation.
For years, students in the Gulf have been complaining of many discrepancies in the evaluation process.
Also, there are thousands of Indian teachers in the Gulf who are highly qualified and talented. These teachers are denied an opportunity to evaluate answer sheets, and this denial deprives them of a valuable experience.
The evaluation in India was introduced when there were only a few Indian schools in the Gulf, whereas today there are hundreds of schools.
Time for action
When I came to Qatar, there were only two Indian schools here – MES and Ideal. Today, there are 16 schools, and the number is likely to go up. Unfortunately, despite all the progress we have made in several areas, the two issues mentioned above haven’t got the attention it deserves.
It’s time for Indian organizations and schools in the Gulf to do all it takes to get these problems sorted out at the earliest.
This is a question of the future of our students.
(The author is Director of Brilliant Group of Institutions in Qatar).