By Sajeev K Peter

KUWAIT: Indian students, teachers and parents in Kuwait greeted with joy and relief an India government decision to open a new exam center for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) in Kuwait to help the Indian student community in the Middle East. “It is a big relief for students like me,” said Sidharth Fernandez, an Indian student who completed his 12th grade this year. Heaving a sigh of relief, he said the decision has lifted his anxiety about travelling to India during this pandemic to write the entrance exam. Many other students shared the sentiments of Fernandez, saying the decision has put an end to their concerns over safety, loss of opportunities and financial burden.

They also expressed their gratitude to Indian Ambassador Sibi George who exerted considerable efforts to get a NEET exam center for Indian students in Kuwait. Interestingly, Kuwait is the only center for the NEET exam outside India. “Registrations for the NEET (UG) 2021 has started on http://ntaneet.nic.in from 5 pm today. For the first time in the history of NEET (UG) exam and in order to facilitate the Indian student community in the Middle East, an examination center has been opened in Kuwait,” India’s Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan tweeted on Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian students were on the horns of a dilemma as they faced the arduous prospect of travelling to India to write various entrance exams during the COVID pandemic. “It is a milestone decision for the Indian community in Kuwait and comes at a critical time. Thanks to the ambassador for his efforts,” said Grace Thomas, an Indian teacher.

Since 2019, India’s ministry of health and family welfare has made it mandatory for students to clear the NEET exam, which is the entry examination for undergraduate medical education in India, as a prerequisite to pursue medical education abroad. “We are relieved, we are thankful,” said Riyaz Ahmad, father of a student who completed her 12th grade this year. For many parents like Ahmad, taking their children to India to take entrance examinations posed insurmountable challenges during this crisis.

“The NEET (UG) 2021 will be for the first time conducted in 13 languages, with the addition of Punjabi and Malayalam,” the Indian minister said. The languages which are now being offered are Hindi, Punjabi, Assamese, Bengali, Odia, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Urdu and English, he said. Pradhan had on Monday announced that the NEET exam, which was earlier scheduled on Aug 1, will now be conducted on Sept 12.

The number of cities where the examination is conducted will be increased from 155 to 198. The number of examination centers will also be increased from the 3,862 used in the 2020. Last year, the exam was conducted on Sept 13 amid strict precautions in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 13,66,000 candidates had appeared for the exam, of whom 7,71,500 qualified.