Lakhs of students appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) every year. Both these exams have been postponed a number of times this year due to COVID-19. On August 25, however, the National Testing Agency (NTA) confirmed that JEE (Main) and NEET (UG) exams will be held as scheduled from September 1 to 6 and September 13 respectively. This started a nationwide debate and social media campaign to postpone the exams in view of rising COVID-19 cases in the country. Hashtags like #ProtestAgainstExamsInCovid and #AntiStudentModiGovt were trended to demand postponement of the entrance tests.
On August 21, National Vice President of All India Students’ Association (AISA) Ashutosh Kumar tweeted two screenshots of alleged news articles by News18 and NDTV. AISA is the student wing affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. As per the News18 screenshot, 57 parents and grandparents of students who appeared for an exam in Karanataka passed away after over 5,000 students tested positive for COVID. Kumar wrote, “This is what happened when only 80,000 candidates appeared for exams all over India just think when 28 Lac students will be appearing what will be the condition! Still they say student cannot decide their welfare. #ProtestAgainstExamsInCOVID.” This tweet was retweeted over 3,000 times. (archived link)
The News18 screenshot has been shared by several other users.
Sir please look at this. 57 deaths and 5371 students affected. Is this the way of learning lessons and playing with our and our parents life? Answer sir please answer. Support the future of nation. You are the fourth pilar of democracy. We have faith on our media. pic.twitter.com/s5ib9kA0JO
— BhaskarM@7064 (@BhaskarM70641) August 22, 2020
Alt News received several requests to fact-check this on WhatsApp helpline (+917600011160) and on our official Android application.
Alt News analysed the text in the screenshots and found Kumar’s claims to be ingenuine.
Image 1: News18 screenshot
The headline in the News18 screenshot reads, “COMDEK UGET 2020: 57 deaths With 5371 students tested +ve for Covid 19, 8456 students qurantined” followed by the subheading that reads, “Students appeared for the COMDEK many been tested positive for covid 19 with 57 grandparents and parents deaths students onfire.” As per the screenshot the article was published on August 20.
A keyword search does not lead to either this ‘story’ by News18 or any reports by other media organisations.
Furthermore, the screenshot has grammatical errors that a leading media outlet is unlikely to make. The abbreviation of Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka Under Graduate Entrance Test is COMEDK UGET not ‘COMDEK’ UGET. The word ‘quarantined’ is misspelt as ‘qurantined’. COVID-19 is written without a hyphen and the use of capital letters in the middle of a sentence are other indicators that the screenshot is fake.
Image 2: NDTV screenshot
Similarly, the headline of the NDTV article reads, “60 СOVID-19 Positive Among 1.47 Lakh Students Who Appeared For CET in Karnataka”, followed by the text, “Sixty COVID-19 positive students were among the 1.47 lakh who appeared for the Karnataka Common Entrance Test for engineering and other courses which began on Thursday.”
Alt News performed another keyword search on Google and found that this article was published by NDTV on July 31 and is about the Karnataka Common Entrance Test (CET) held last months. The COMEDK examinations were conducted on August 19.
As per NDTV’s report, out of 1.47 lakh students who appeared for CET, 60 were COVID-19 positive. Deputy Chief Minister Dr C N Ashwath Narayan was quoted in the report saying, “Separate sitting arrangements have been made for the COVID-19 students and they faced the examination courageously.”
Thus, AISA National Vice-President Ashutosh Kumar shared a doctored News18 screenshot that falsely claimed that 57 parents and grandparents of students who sat for COMEDK exams in Karnataka died due to COVID-19. He also shared an old NDTV report which spoke about CET exams held in the state last month.
[Note: This article does not intend to condone the Education Ministry’s decision to hold NEET and JEE entrance tests during COVID-19. Alt News has only reported on the misinformation circulating in the view of the examinations.]