Education By Jugaad

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Bihar was once renowned for its education, today education is in a deep hole. Parents use every trick in the book to ensure their children get good marks, and if connections can make the child top, why not? BY HARSH RANJAN

In the mid-1980s, I was a science student in Magadh University, Bihar, and I admit I had a complex! Unlike many other students I was not a “ward case”, a term peculiarly native to Bihar. It meant students who are either sons or daughters of university staff (teaching and non-teaching), which could also be stretched to include those enjoying a close association with them.

“Ward case” students are part of the “creamy layer” where they enjoy several benefits and freebies including relaxation in attending classes, free tuitions at the teachers’ home, advance notice about the content of question papers and even lenient evaluation of their answer sheets. Add to that, “ward cases” are treated with great respect by college staff and can access almost all places otherwise banned for students, such as the records room, office of the controller of examinations and so on.

What more could a student want? As for the parents, most of them were proud of the status their children enjoyed, little realizing that by doing so they were not favoring them but handicapping them for life. The dependence inculcated at that young age became a habit, pushing them out of the mainstream race.

Thus the revelation about Bihar topper Ruby Rai is not out of the ordinary. Ruby, a below average student who could barely write her name correctly, topped the class 12 examination in the Arts stream with political science as one of her subjects. Media reports said she called it “prodigal science”, which doesn’t exist.

A parent is probably the best person to know his or her child’s capabilities. But if the parent fails to get things right, it’s dark days for the child (and the parent). This is exactly what happened with Ruby. She’s in a juvenile home, her father and some others are in jail. Ruby says all she wanted was to pass with a second division, and this is what she had requested her father.

The father went too far, using his connections in the ‘who’s who’ of the Bihar education department to make his daughter a topper. He must have been proud, evident from the visuals on several TV news channels, with the entire family tuned out for the occasion flanking Ruby sporting a tilak and a new dress. But with every passing moment, it was becoming evident that Ruby was only slightly better than LLPP (Likh Lodha Padh Patthar), again a Bihari term ascribed to illiterates.

Instances of students copying in exams, aided and abetted by outsiders, possibly relatives, who pass on chits and pages from text books, have become public. Teachers on duty are indifferent or connive at the sabotage of education. Above all, it is a fraud perpetrated on the students. The ongoing investigation may even reveal the play of money.

But really, this is about parental neglect and official connivance. There’s no way one can attribute such marking to a ‘computer glitch’. The students may have been lazy and not bothered to study, they could not have been part of some elaborate gang. It is the parents who are to blame!

Bihar topper Ruby Rai is not out of the ordinary. Ruby, a below average student who could barely write her name correctly, topped the class 12 examination in the Arts stream with political science as one of her subjects

I have known some parents in Bihar who tell their wards never to disclose the marks they actually scored (if it was less than expected). The family sits together and decides on what would be a ‘good percentage’. There comes a time when they start believing that lie. Many Bihari parents will also proudly tell you their children are ‘studying in Delhi’, implying they are in Delhi University when they are actually attending private colleges in Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and elsewhere affiliated to lesser known universities with uncertain standards.

Bihar has always been notorious for widespread cheating during examinations, but the latest revelations have forced the authorities to take action against unscruplous parents, middlemen, and evaluators who willingly ‘fixed marks’. But the latter is a common practice, which is perhaps why students don’t study.

With Sushashan Babu (Nitish Kumar) on the case, everyone is expecting some kind of action that would bring back education’s lost glory. He has a lot of ground to cover. Bihar, once a global center of learning, has now deteriorated to a level where degrees issued by its boards and universities have little credibility. The paradox is there was a time when the ancient universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila, established in the 5th and 8th centuries respectively, were important centres of learning that attracted foreign students and scholars.

Since then, education has taken a 180 degree turn forcing parents of good students to send their children to college or universities outside the state, or if they can afford it, even abroad.

AFFILIATION/ACCREDITATION

The process of providing affiliation and accreditation for an institution or a college is well defined in the Education Department guidelines but are rarely implemented. There are hundreds of colleges in Bihar which are run from small rented houses or shops without even an electricity connection. This when the guidelines clearly state that a college must have basic infrastructure facilities such as decent classrooms, library facilities, play area, canteens, drinking water and separate washrooms for boys and girls. Ruby Rai, for instance, was a student of Vishnu Rai College (notorious for selling degrees) in Vaishali, some 30 km from Patna. Last year a committee was constituted by the BSEB (Bihar State Education Board) under some pressure from the government, to probe its functioning. The head of the committee said the principal did not produce any document relating to its affiliation or the admission process; the inspection showed that none of the classrooms could accommodate the number of students shown in the college register.

Education and degree fraud are not new to Bihar. Committees have been constituted, investigations have been done, those guilty have been punished and the victims suffer but with the passage of time, it’s back to jugaad

The head of the committee said that “Our terms of reference focused only on the college’s infrastructure, admission and registration process. The principal showed us a register that claimed enrolment of 745 students in science, 340 in humanities and 345 in commerce. We were told that one section has 126 students but when our team inspected the classrooms, we could not find a single room with enough benches to accommodate 126 students. We were shown the physics, chemistry, botany, zoology and geography labs but all lab materials were still packed, as if brought only to show the team.”

BIHAR’S GRACE

The system of ‘grace’ marks was introduced in the Indian education system to help those students who were on the threshold of achieving the next level. For example, if a student fell short of 60 per cent by one to five marks, he or she could be considered for the award of some grace marks. Similarly, a student could be given grace marks if he or she was falling short of the 30 per cent pass mark. Thereby, the student was saved having to repeat a year. As a tool to keep students motivated to study, grace marks was well intentioned but ended up being grossly misused by colleges.

Allotting 27 grace marks to more than a lakh students, so that the proportion of those passing went up from a pitiable 39.5 per cent to over 72 per cent in the Class 10 final examination is a case in point. Media reports a year ago said the percentage of those passing went up from 48.22 per cent to 65.21 per cent by awarding grace marks.

Whether ward cases or grace marks, the lesson that students learn is life is all about jugaad. Even the undeserving can win honours with a little jugaad, meaning connections and clout oiled by money. If in the process the education system is reduced to a farce with gross disservice being done to students, it’s a point that seems to have escaped both parents and the educational community.

Education and degree fraud are not new to Bihar. Committees have been constituted, investigations have been done, those guilty have been punished and the victims suffer but with the passage of time, it’s back to jugaad. One can blame the education department, corrupt officials, politi-cians but the parents are the real villains here. They need to wake up.

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