By Abhishek Jha:
Filling my news feed and timeline for the past couple of days have been photos and videos of mass cheating during the tenth standard Bihar Board examinations. The first reaction of most people to it, was of amusement. It is, in fact, bewildering to see so many people climb a wall to just pass a chit to students inside the examination hall. However, the derision that the students have earned across the country and abroad seems to take this as a one-off event, a “scandal” that has been “exposed”. The authorities too reacted to the news reports as if this mass-cheating was being surreptitiously carried out in a remote corner.
This is far from the truth. Similar incidents have been happening since as long as I can remember and they have been happening just as much in the open. So there must be a systematic failure that the authorities and governments have failed to contain over the years. That the friends and guardians of those taking this examination were not deterred by the sheer danger of climbing up to a fourth floor window or that of being caught by the police, indicates that the examination itself must be a more real threat to them. Knowing that they could be arrested or could break their spine by falling off the building, would it not have been easier for these parents to have instead helped their ward in studying?
Apparently not. The examination, if one took care to notice, was being conducted by the state board, which is as much a stock of ridicule among those who go to CBSE/ICSE affiliated schools. The state board is in fact in such shambles that nobody opts for it unless bound by necessity. And in a state where a third of the population is below the poverty line, we can perhaps argue that the people are needy. These are students who have had teachers absent from classrooms. Some of them might have grown up hugely dependent on mid-day meals. A private tutor, coaching classes, and the like are unimaginable for most of these students. The matric examination, our collective obsession, is almost a class metric for them. Even though they have had to borrow textbooks, even though they have had to divide their time between the book and the bullock, they must somehow come at par with their more privileged counterparts. Failure would beget shame. And the rat race that our profit-driven, rote-based education system is, this metric-shame has often driven students to extreme steps like suicide.
The question then, that one is bound to face is whether cheating in examinations can be justified under such circumstances. How is one to examine students? It is a misplaced concern. Examine what? An examination makes sense if one has been taught or has had a chance at learning at least. Students appearing in state board examinations across the country seem to have neither. This is beyond the well known fact that there is a huge shortage of good or even properly trained teachers in this country at all levels of education.
But given all of this, the media-coverage would have been effective had it moved the government to look into its own failures. Unfortunately though, the outrage will settle with a few suspensions and expulsions. Next year these students will take cue from fellow students elsewhere and smuggle mobile phones to the examination hall. How will we then ensure that examinations serve their purpose?