The Karnataka government's decision to conduct school leaving exams of over eight lakh students amid steady rise in coronavirus cases has led to fear and protests by parents and political parties.
Starting Thursday, the more-than-eight lakh students are expected to write their Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) exams with several precautionary measures in place to ensure the examinees’ safety.
Several parents and children were seen outside examination centres on Wednesday to assess the safety measures in place.
Manjunath K, a parent, said they have no choice as the government has decided not to cancel exams. "The education minister (Suresh Kumar) said they won't cancel, it will be held as per schedule. So we have no choice. The arrangements seem fine for children to write their exams.”
"We have to write the exam anyway. I want the exam to be held. So that it is over soon," said Taniya Taj, a student. Her father Ajaz Pasha said he is worried about the virus, but feels that it would be safe if social distancing is maintained.
"We have been studying for so long. If they postpone it, can't study anymore. We are forgetting everything that we studied with such a long gap," said Varalakshmi, another student, while her father Elumalai said there was so much fear.
"There is a lot of fear around due to the pandemic. Cases are increasing by the day. You don't know from where who is getting it," he said.
A criminal miscellaneous petition has been filed against Minister Suresh Kumar seeking registration an FIR against him for conducting the exams amid the outbreak.
"By going ahead with the exams, the minister is putting the lives of lakhs of students at risk. It could be to show his achievement politically, but he is playing with the students' lives," said Adarsh Iyer, co-president of Janaadhikara Sangharsha Parishath, who filed the petition.
The state government, however, seems to have taken this 10-day exercise to hold board exams as a challenge to its management capabilities. Neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have cancelled their board exams.
Also, it comes at a time when the Karnataka government is mulling a second round of lockdown in Bengaluru amid increasing number of cases. The state’s COVID-19 tally crossed the 10,000-mark on Wednesday.
The exams will be held for 8,48,203 students across 2879 centres in the state. Additional 330 centres have also been set up.
Students from containment zones will also appear for their exams. These students and those who have symptoms of the virus will be seated in separate rooms.
If a centre is falls in a containment zone in the coming days, it will be shifted to a different centre reserved for the same.
Boxes drawn on floors to ensure distancing, thermal screening at entrances, desks placed far apart inside classrooms are some of the measures in place at these centers.
Initially scheduled to be held in March, the exams were given a go-ahead by the high court and the Supreme Court and will continue till July 5.
Students must mandatorily wear a mask throughout the examination, bring their own water bottles and have been asked to report as early as at 7.30am to ensure distancing. Exams will begin at 10.30am.
Former chief minister and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) leader HD Kumaraswamy said the exams should have been postponed in view of the pandemic.
The education minister, however, said the cases may go up further in the coming months as per experts. "He (HD Kumaraswamy) says exams can be postponed to August or some other time, but experts think otherwise. This is the right time for students to write their exams with all the safety measures in place."