Geena*, a native of Kerala, had booked a slot to write her Occupational English Test (OET) examination, an English language test for healthcare professionals to study abroad, in February. It was the time when the coronavirus disease or COVID-19 had just started spreading from China to other countries. She had booked the slot to take the exam on March 21.
Incidentally, a lot has changed since the time Geena booked the slot, including the viral outbreak being declared as a pandemic. So much that the government in Kerala, which has 14 active cases, has already closed all schools till class 7, all colleges (except medical colleges), movie theatres and eco-tourism centres are also to remain till March-end. It is also scrambling to trace the persons who may have come in contact with the 14 infected patients and keep them under observation.
Despite these stringent precautionary measures by central governments, including the mandate of obtaining coronavirus-negative certificates for those travelling from Italy and South Korea, the OET and the International English Language Testing System has not been rescheduled yet.
While IELTS is an English language test conducted by the British Council, OET is by the Cambridge Assessment English and Box Hill Institute.
Both these exams are scheduled to be held on March 21 in Kerala. While IELTS exams will be held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kollam, Thrissur and Calicut, OET is being conducted in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Angamaly and Calicut.
According to many candidates who were set to take the test on March 21, the British council in Chennai and OET exam conductors in New Delhi are going ahead with conducting the exams in the state.
â€śIt must be noted that these exams attract at least 300 students in one IELTS exam centre and around 500 each in OET exam centres. The Kerala government is strict about the implementation of precautions to arrest the spread of the fatal coronavirus,â€ť read a joint statement from many candidates.
â€śThese exams attract hundreds of candidates from different parts of Kerala. They gather in one hall, increasing the chances of spread of the virus,â€ť Geenaâ€™s father John*, who is also a teacher in Kerala, told TNM.
â€śI am not going to send my daughter to take her OET exam,â€ť he added.
Besides the fear of being infected, many candidates are posed with another challenge.
All training institutes of IELTS and OET have been closed on the directive of the state government. â€śGeena, who joined only last month, has not even completed her one-month coaching. Like my daughter, many other candidates are not prepared to take the exam with hardly any training,â€ť said John.
Additionally, if these candidates fail to clear the exams, they stand to lose their money. The exam fee for IELTS is Rs 12,350 per candidate, and around Rs 30,000 for OET.
â€śThese exam conductors are the only parties who would be the benefactors in this decision. They do not seem to care about the failure of these candidates nor are they concerned about the unprecedented spread of the deadly virus, let alone the measures imposed in this state,â€ť said the statement.
Incidentally, the IELTS has suspended the exams in March in several countries, including China, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Italy and Saudi Arabia. They have even provided free support material to help test takers prepare during the suspension. OET, too, has suspended tests in Hong Kong, Italy, Oman and UAE, which were scheduled to be held on March 21.
â€śWe, the candidates of the March 21 exam, request the authorities (concerned) to postpone the exam to April,â€ť the statement read.
British Council, however, said that "IELTS examinations will be taking place as per the schedule in Kerala". British Council also added that they are keeping the test takers informed of the timing and logistical arrangements at the test centres.
"Given the current circumstances, if certain test takers are not comfortable to take the exam, they will be able to transfer test dates at no extra fee or cancel the test and receive a full refund," Michael King, director of British Council English and Exams Services Indian Private Limited, said.
It has adopted extra precautionary measures, including sanitising the test venues and placing hand sanitisers at the centres. Wearing masks has been made optional, those wearing them must remove it during registration, ID checks and after toilet breaks.
Dhanya Rajendran speaks to a coronavirus patient who was in home quarantine and then medically isolated. He has recovered, ask him questions if you have any.Posted by TheNewsMinute on Thursday, March 12, 2020