EDITORIAL: TU, stay resolute

One only hopes TU has a Plan B ready should coronavirus cases in the country get out of hand

Even as the authorities mull over another lockdown following the rapid rise in the number of Covid-19 cases across the country in recent days, Nepal’s biggest university, Tribhuvan University, has decided to go ahead with its regular examinations after the major festivals next month. Dasain, the biggest festival of the Nepalis, is just about a fortnight away, and students have been asked to contact their respective colleges and learn about the exam schedule and location. The coronavirus has hit all sectors, but its impact on education is particularly critical as it affects more than a third of the country’s population, or 10 million students in schools and colleges. The lockdown went into force on March 23, just days before the school and college students were to sit for their respective exams. As a result, the Secondary School Examinations (SEE) taken at the end of class 10 were cancelled this year. For the first time, students were, thus, evaluated based on their performance in school, which resulted in unprecedented high scores.

The new academic year of colleges in particular has been delayed by months, and unless the authorities can come up with some way to conduct the exams and start the new session, the academic environment is going to go awry. Some universities have already conducted exams, but they have few students.

However, Tribhuvan University, with tens of thousands of students studying in hundreds of affiliated colleges, is a different story altogether.

The mode of taking the exams will have to be very different this time. Until now, all the students from a particular college were made to take their exams from a particular centre.

But right now, most of the students have gone back to their homes, some to remote villages. With the students unable to travel long distances, the exam centres will have to be at the nearest convenient location for them. For those unable to visit a nearby college, the TU is also mulling over holding ‘open book exams’ under the direct supervision of local governments.

But all this is easier said than done. For one, the authorities cannot be taking chances. The threat of the coronavirus is real, and there are immense chances of the virus spreading if the students are not made to follow the mandatory health guidelines at the exam centre. With the incidence of Covid-19 increasing at an alarming rate, no one can predict what the scenario will be after Dasain and Tihar, when the cold season will have set in. The government is said to be thinking of imposing another lockdown should the number of active cases touch the 25,000 mark. For now, TU remains determined to conduct the exams come what may as no one knows when the virus will finally go away. One only hopes it has a Plan B ready should coronavirus cases in the country get out of hand. It is equally necessary that there is strict monitoring and supervision of the exam centres to discourage any unethical practice.

When the exams are conducted, strict monitoring of the movement of students, practising social distancing and wearing of masks will go a long way in making them a success.

Abide by the rules

Eight private hospitals and laboratories which have obtained permission from the government to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have refused to abide by the directives issued by the Ministry of Health and Population. The ministry has now slashed the price for a PCR test from Rs 5,500 to Rs 2,000, citing price cuts in the international market for PCR test kits and reagents. The private hospitals and labs have argued that they cannot provide the service at the price fixed by the government as they have already made huge investments in setting up their labs and arranging human resources. The private hospitals, in a joint statement, said they would charge Rs 3,899 for a PCR test.

Their argument that they need to buy equipment, reagents and other stuffs at a “much higher price in the black market” is simply illogical. The government has already made arrangements to purchase the required equipment and other stuffs at subsidies rates.

Private health institutions must provide affordable services to the public in times of emergency. If they don’t follow the rules, legal action should be taken against them. They cannot be fixing fees on their own.