By Akshat Tyagi:
When the ‘prodigious’ Ruby Rai, the Arts (Humanities) topper of Bihar state board, was asked to name the subjects she had studied for scoring an exemplary 444 marks out of 500, Rai replied thus – “Hindi, English, Geography, Music and Prodigal Science.” The word ‘prodigal’ means wastefully extravagant and sardonically that is an honest synonym of the outlook which a majority of the Indian population shares towards Political Science and Humanities stream.
Ruby’s reply wasn’t a slip of tongue, she even elucidated that it is a subject pertaining to cooking. Even before the reprehensible image of Bihar’s cheating scandal, in which parents climbed walls of an institute (ironically named after the ‘Nai Talim’ advocate – Gandhi) to help their children cheat in 10th Boards examinations faded from world’s recounting, here was a state board topper astounding educators with her unfamiliarity of even the name of the subject she scored the highest marks in, let alone its content.
To save its shame, the Bihar State Education Board ordered a re-test of all the fourteen toppers of science and arts. Only Ruby failed to appear in the exam on the pretext of depression due to the public trial of her competence. Nevertheless, when she appeared she failed desolately. “Tulsidas ji, Pranam,” a confident Ruby wrote in one line responding to an essay question on the poet-saint in the re-test before being arrested.
Interestingly, while being arrested Ruby appeared confident and refused to cover her face. She only used her scarf after being insisted to do so.
Ruby and Shreshtha (the science topper who also failed the re-test) have become a laughing stock for everybody over the past month. But the hard truth is, it is instead the education system which should be laughed at and hidden under a cover for the crimes it commits.The re-test did not fail these children, it failed the education system.
Bihar may already have a notorious reputation for the poor education standards it has, and quite comfortably we have accepted it as the fortune of those who cannot afford elite private education. That surely does not mean private schools are closer to the real meaning of education, but they are at least committed in their business. What we must not forget is, even the largest education board-CBSE affiliated schools are not immune to cheating (mass-cheating within the examination rooms is not uncommon), it may happen more cordially and prudently but no student having appeared for the board exams would deny its prevalence.
These students who are caught under the radar are only less lucky than their peers. And these frequent cases are often dealt with stringency as a display of no-tolerance-for-unfair-practices.
But the radical (root) questions are never thought about. Why do children cheat? If children cannot be honest with themselves then what is the worth of their schooling? If schools, which keep over-stressing discipline, build students who are not sincere, then what values are we promoting? Why are exams becoming so imperative in life that it pushes students to risk a five-year long debarment from all government exams just to fetch a few additional marks?
We need not punish pupils for they are the representatives of a hollow design of education which we have built for our children. Children like Ruby occasionally expose what exactly is wrong with the way in which we educate our children.
When a few digits on my report card, based on my performance calibre of only five days, very arbitrarily evaluated by examiners who check over 40 sheets in six hours, each for less than fifty rupees, is going to determine the future course of my education, then maybe it is the system which indulges in unfair practice and not the other way round.
This same evaluation process can also be easily and significantly altered at the will of the education board. Like when outrage over a difficult question paper triggers statements such as “checking of answer sheets will be lenient“. It is immoral to joke with students by setting question papers, forcing them to buy reference books, putting the burden on them to seek help from commercial ‘educational’ publishers and coaching. And also, if the board can ‘adjust’ the evaluation process to ‘leniency,’ then it becomes highly unclear what benchmark we are aiming for and what sort of a predicament a student is about to face during an exam. The idea of examination is little more than bad humour when kids are allowed to see their answer scripts but not question the fairness of the evaluation.
Beyond boards, let us ask ourselves, are these annual standardised examinations any less than a year-long torture for our children? Are we selling the beautiful period of learning and teenage in exchange on a few inconsequential digits on a piece of paper we call the report card? And we decide that this is all there is to the lovely and life-long journey of education? Or are we making this journey irrelevant keeping in sight some other glittering dream which has no space and time to worry about the sanity and happiness of children?
This is certainly not what our children deserve. I may not have all the answers, it may take me a lifetime to figure out, but is it not our collective responsibility to ensure a better system to the future of our world?